Finish Graduate School Requirements Online After College

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As a teacher at an elementary school in Florida, 26-year-old Mandy Suhandron became interested in the job of the speech-language pathologists who worked there – so much that she decided it’s the career she wants to pursue.

But before she could apply to graduate school, she needs to fulfill some undergraduate requirements that she hadn’t in college. After taking two classes on campus at the nearby Florida Atlantic University, she decided to continue her studies remotely at the University of South Florida, which offers seven online postbaccalaureate courses.

“I preferred online because I wanted to keep working,” Suhandron says. She’s taken two postbac classes at USF so far, and has signed up for three more.

For students like Suhandron who need to finish graduate school requirements after college, online education might be the way to go. That learning format, experts say, provides flexibility for the recent college graduate or career-changer who’s also working.

“Students can take classes at their own pace; they can remain in their work environment and essentially meet those prerequisites quicker and ultimately more affordably,” given that they don’t need to move near campus, says Mac Powell, president of Bastyr University, which focuses on health sciences and has online courses.

Universities might offer online postbac options across disciplines – from accounting to teaching certification programs – though premedical and pre-health courses are particularly common, experts say.

Colorado State University Online offers several online postbac health courses in fields ranging from gerontology to physical therapy. The University of Georgia has an online postbac program in classical languages.

“I could apply for a Master of Arts and not have to go back and redo a bachelor’s degree to be qualified for the entry requirements,” says 40-year-old Keith Saare, an online student in the UGA program and U.S. Army chaplain.

In some cases, students might enroll in just one online course or the few they need to satisfy grad school requirements. That’s an option in USF’s online postbac program in speech-language pathology, says Kyna Betancourt, director of the language-speech-hearing undergraduate program.

“Something to consider would be if they require you to take all of the courses that are offered, or if you can kind of pick and choose depending on what you need,” she says.

But learning science online, especially for premed students, presents a few challenges. In some online postbac premed or pre-health courses, students might complete lab components at home or virtually through simulations; in others, they might go to the actual campus or a local college or university.

Experts say that whether a medical school will accept online course or lab credits varies by institution and course.

Mark Barry, student success coach at CSU Online, says he tells students to contact the graduate school they’re interested in before they enroll in online postbac courses to check the exact requirements. The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, for instance, doesn’t accept prerequisites completed online.

Some medical schools also won’t accept credits from community colleges, depending on the circumstances, experts say – another thing for prospective students to consider. Still, for some students, community college online courses might be a good route, providing access to a campus and typically charging lower tuition.

“It’s an opportunity for the student to get what they need at the price that they need it, and then the online portion makes all the sense in the world because usually you have something else going on in your life,” says Adam Murka, spokesman and director of strategic relationships at Sinclair Community College in Ohio, which has many online classes.

When picking an online postbac course, it’s critical for prospective students to verify with potential grad schools that credits will transfer, says Nancy Salzman, dean of the School of Extended Education at Brandman University. That’s often determined by a school’s accreditation, she says.

If it’s regionally accredited, credits “will be most likely accepted by another college or university, so that they don’t end up taking courses that they can’t use for degree completion,” she says.

By pursuing postbac or similar courses online, students can also gauge their final interest in a field before spending money on a full graduate degree, says Donald Judges, interim vice provost for distance education at the University of Arkansas.

“It kind of lets you try before you buy,” he says. “You can take a course or two, see if the quality is what meets your needs, whether this is a field that really works for you.”

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