Non-Traditional Routes for Bachelor’s Degree-Seekers

The popular stereotype of college is that of an ivy-covered campus populated by hard-partying young men and women in their upper teens and early twenties, free of responsibility and ready for a road trip. However, with a rapidly shifting digital world, skyrocketing tuition costs, and increased competition for students, most universities have begun to make space for non-traditional students and alternate forms of earning a college degree.

Flexibility, willingness to research, and a goal-oriented mindset are essential to finding the funds, the time, and the endurance required to complete a Bachelor’s degree. Once your goals are established and you’ve committed yourself to a plan, the task isn’t as overwhelming as you may have originally thought.

Reserve Officer Training Corps

Inaugurated in 1916, this form of earning your BA or BS is the most time-honored. ROTC is a program which provides a college scholarship in exchange for military service as an officer.Many people are familiar with the United States military’s elite academies, but some are unaware that many college offer these programs, which mimic these institutions’ structure and service options. You may choose between programs in the Army, Air Force, Navy, or “Marine Option” Navy corps. Many of America’s officers enter into the military through this program.

If you are considering joining the military anyway, applying for an ROTC scholarship might be an excellent option for you. Joining the military as an officer promises better pay, benefits, and career options than doing so as an enlisted member. However, ROTC requires immense time management, commitment, and stamina.

ROTC members regularly participate in unit activities and charitable events. Certain classroom courses are required for those in the program; these usually pertain to military etiquette, leadership, or military history. Certain physical standards must be met. Cadets may provide support for their campus as honor guards, ushers, or emergency assistance. Many ROTC programs expect their members to participate in training exercises during school breaks and in the summer months. All this must be achieved while sustaining a certain grade point average.

The traditional time frame of “paying back” an ROTC scholarship is four years as a military officer, but it may be more depending on a graduate’s training, degree, or area of specialization.You may be deployed internationally during your time of service, which is an attraction for those who enjoy travel.

While an ROTC scholarship might limit choices you may have otherwise made immediately after graduation, it does promise direction, a job, housing, and a salary once your diploma is in hand. That’s far more than most college graduates have, and completing the full ROTC program is an instant resume enhancer. You can either choose to stay in the military as an officer once your agreed-upon time of service is through, or you will emerge from your service already having learned employer-friendly skills, experience, and abilities.

Online Bachelor’s Degree Programs

Online learning opportunities have exploded over the last decade. This is a popular option with older students, deployed troops, or parents who might also hold down full time jobs.

While a diploma from an online school used to have a stigma attached, that’s quickly falling by the wayside as traditional educational options become prohibitively expensive. Many are finding that plunging into as much as six-figure debt for the usual four-year, on-campus experience takes a lifetime to pay back, and some high paying jobs might not require a brand-name college degree in the first place.

Some universities host both brick and mortar campuses as well as online options. Many students combine an on-campus experience with a smattering of online courses which their primary school does not offer, then transfer the credit to complete their degree faster, and therefore cheaper.

Many employers offer tuition assistance for online universities or specialized courses. Some offer promotions once the degree is completed, and others pair exclusively with local universities for a combination of part time work, in-classroom courses, and online education.

One Class at a Time

Students used to have to live near their college of record in order to stay close to their teachers and complete their course of study. But with the development of cars and air transportation, Western societies became more mobile. In recent years, tuition become almost out of reach for some families without some form of financial aid. The result is that some students now chip away at their Bachelor’s degrees a class or two at a time.

“Time in college” has become far less compact, and not necessarily because students are changing their majors or artificially dragging out coursework to avoid the working world. Many students have adopted a pay-as-you-go model, attending classes at night or on the weekends. Some hold down part time jobs to help pay for their tuition as they attend courses, or switch between taking classes full time and working full time.

This method, while it may take longer and requires tremendous patience, has the benefit of completing one’s degree without tremendous debt. It also releases the new graduate into the job market with a verifiable employment history.

Transfer of Life Experience

Many colleges, especially those eager to work with non-traditional students, offer course credit to recognize a student’s life experience, independent study, or on-the-job training. This can quickly cut down on tuition costs and time in the classroom.

For example, if a student has an established business career which has involved a great deal of public speaking, his or her college may accept a portfolio of testimony, letters of recommendation, and detailed resume as evidence that he or she may bypass required communication courses. Sometimes a fee is associated with being granted this form of credit, but it’s usually far cheaper than tuition.

Another option is the College Level Examination Program. CLEP is a set of 33 exams one may take to establish previous knowledge of college-level material. The courses it covers are usually entry-level, enabling the student to take advanced electives more quickly in his or her college career. Successfully passing CLEP exams save students both time and money.

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