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Articles / Applying to College / Distance Learning While In the Army

Nov. 14, 2002

Distance Learning While In the Army

Question: I am in the Army, and I really don't have a lot of time to go to a classroom and do college there. Are online college courses worthwhile? In particular, I am looking at Saint Leo University because it is one of the colleges that we have on the base

here. Also, could you please tell me the difference between the A.A. and the B.A.?


You’ve actually asked two questions. First of all, there is significant difference between an Associate’s degree (A.A or A.S. depending on the field of study or the college granting the degree) and a Bachelor’s Degree (B.A. or B.S.). Typically, an Associate’s degree is completed in two years of full-time study and a Bachelor’s in four, but this may vary, depending on your major and institution.

Usually, when someone says that he or she is “a college graduate,” it means that a Bachelor’s degree has been earned. In some fields, however, the A.A. is considered the “terminal” degreeâ€"in other words, the highest one required to pursue a career in that area. For example, dental hygienists and many types of medical assistants (x-ray and lab technicians, office managers) have often earned A.A. degrees and are fully qualified in their fields. Police officers may be required to hold an Associate's degree but, far less often, a higher one.

Junior colleges and community colleges generally grant only Associate's degrees. Some institutions that offer 4-year Bachelor’s degrees also provide a shorter Associate’s option. Many students choose to major in an area that will allow them to earn an Associate’s diploma and to put it to work right after graduation. Others transfer to a four-year institution after getting an Associate's degree (or continue on at a current one) and aim for a Bachelor’s. (Some two-year colleges even have what are called “articulation agreements” with four-year colleges. This means that if you maintain a designated GPA and/or select certain required courses, you are automatically accepted for transfer to the four-year institution when you finish your Associate’s degree.) If you are thinking of earning an A.A., you need to look ahead and see what career options will be available to you without going on for your bachelor’s.

Now to your other question: “Distance Learning” (taking courses online) is becoming an increasingly popular and accepted approach to college-level study. If St. Leo offers an academic program that appeals to you, it seems like it would be a wise option since the school is affiliated with your Army base. This should help you cut through any red tape that might stand between you and your degree. There are hundreds of other distance-learning opportunities, but it seems to make sense to take advantage of one that is readily available.

On the other hand, if you are interested in a major or specific program that is not offered by St. Leo, you might want to check out the University of Phoenix (www.phoenix.edu). This fairly new university is making a name for itself by tailoring its programs to working adults like yourself. You can complete a U. of Phoenix degree entirely online. Their curriculum is designed so that you take one course at a time over a fairly short period, rather than several at a time over a longer one (the way most typical college semesters are structured).

Your base or community library should also have a reference book that lists the many other distance learning programs available. You might be surprised to see the huge number of colleges and universities (including many names you’re sure to recognize) that now give credit to students who never set foot on their campuses. In fact, the list is so long that you may not be only surprised but also overwhelmed. For that reason, you could be smart to stick to St. Leo or to any other institution that is working in conjunction with your Army base.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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