What Are Degree Completion Programs?

Many college students undergo financial or other hardships which cause them to drop out or to discontinue their college. The government in the US and in other countries have setup special programs to help such students to comfortably complete college.

Degree completion programs are special programs setup by a few select colleges to enable students who previously dropped out of college, to successfully complete their college degrees. These colleges transfer student’s previous college learning from years ago into their new college transcript. They grant students college credits for passing exams such as CLEP, for accredited online courses, and by evaluating their previous non-college learning or experience for college credits.

There are a few US colleges that specialize specifically on offering students a degree completion plan. Some other regular universities with traditional college degrees also have a separate department that provides degree completion programs.



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Process Stage




Enrollment into a degree completion program begins by submitting all your old college-level certificates and transcripts (or mark sheets) to the college.

The application process at these colleges is simple and generally takes about 2 to 3 weeks. Along with the certificates and transcripts, a detailed course curriculum also needs to be submitted for each previously-completed course.



For students who have completed any previous learning outside the US, a foreign credential evaluation is required before applying to this college program.

Each college has its own recommended list of foreign credential evaluators, so be sure to check this list before submitting your documents for evaluation.



A few weeks after enrollment and upon paying the enrollment fees, a detailed college transcript will be sent to you listing all the credits that have been transferred to the current degree, along with the respective scores or grades for each course.



A typical US bachelors degree requires about 120 credits with individual credit requirements for each core/ elective topic as per your degree curriculum.

So if you already have a total of 120 or more credits, you will still need to check if you have enough credits for all the core credits such as humanities, math and science and so on. Your degree major will also require you to earn many advanced credits for the major.



As you progress with your degree, keeping in regular communication with your college counselor is very important. Be sure to check with your student counselor before taking any new college course, online courses or exams.



Students can take college courses where they live, online courses, MOOC’s, other certifications or standardized exams such as CLEP or DSST.



All accredited learning will transfer free of charge and other non-accredited learning will require a fee-based portfolio evaluation at the college.

Courses that are part of a regionally accredited US college, or ACE/ NCCRS accredited courses can be freely transferred to your current degree transcript.



Students can complete their degree at a degree completion college in as little as a few months, or up to around a maximum of 6 or 7 years, depending on individual college policies.

If a student has already completed most of the course and credit requirements prior to enrollment, the final degree certificate can be obtained almost immediately or in a few months. It all depends on how quickly the student is able to meet the degree’s credit requirements.



Before final graduation, be sure to check your final GPA. Any GPA between 3+ and 5 (range being from 1 to 5) is considered a good grade/ score.

If you have an excess of credits much greater than the 120 or so required for graduation, request your college to remove some of the courses with lower scores from your transcript. This will improve your final grade point average or GPA.

Finally, be sure to purchase the gown and cap for the graduation ceremony!



The top degree completion colleges are Excelsior college, Thomas Edison and Charter Oak State college. Here is further information on 10 degree completion colleges located in various US states. Here are additional lesser-known degree completion colleges with most of them located in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.



Most degree completion colleges have relaxed admission requirements that include high school graduation and the completion of at least a few prior college courses. This requirement for college credits can also be met by completing a few AP exams in high school or later.

SAT, AP or ACT are usually NOT mandatory for college admissions.

There are rolling admissions throughout the year at most colleges, or 3 at least or more times a year when students can apply for admissions at one of these degree completion colleges.

So there is no need to wait an year if you missed an admissions deadline. Simply apply as soon as you’re ready to enroll into your degree program.


You can live in any part of the world and do not have to live in the same state as the college or even in the US for studying at one of these colleges.

There are no visa requirements or travel required for completing your college degree at these colleges.

Some of the colleges such as Empire State require students to earn a fixed number of college credits by directly taking their college courses. But most of such requirements can be easily met by taking online courses. There are also other colleges such as Excelsior which do not have any such limitations, and students can take any courses, exams or learning from anywhere in the US or from other countries.


Any high school graduate with just a few college credits can enroll into a degree completion program.

Most students of these programs either have a delay in graduating college or have a gap in their college studies and want to desperately complete their college degree.

Many of them are in their early or mid-20’s but there are also some who are younger and others in their 30’s or older. For a non-traditional college student, any age is ideal for college.

Some students want to study full time and many prefer part time studies. Some students work full time and take up college studies after work hours. Others have a family with kids and find these programs to be very convenient for completing college in their spare time.

Therefore, degree completion programs are suitable for any of the following student categories:

  • Non-traditional students who want to leverage their previous college learning towards completing their college degree. Options such as credits transfer and portfolio evaluation are very helpful for such students.
  • High school graduates who have completed some college-level learning or AP courses and who are looking for a timely and affordable way to complete their college degree.
  • Students who prefer taking control of their college studies by choosing their own courses (which fit the degree curriculum).
  • Students whose family/ living circumstances would require them to travel during their college years. By signing up to a degree completion program, such students can continue their college without any break in their college studies while traveling.


Any accredited courses you take while you’re enrolled in the college, and those you completed earlier can be transferred FREE of charge for credits into your degree transcript. Non-accredited courses will require a special portfolio/ prior-learning evaluation (which I’ll discuss later in this post).

As a student of a degree completion program, your study schedules can be anything that works for you.

You can take some classes online and other classes at a physical college, or choose all your classes to be online. You can also write exams such as AP, ACT or take online ACE-accredited courses for college credits.

Some MOOC courses that are ACE/ NCCRS accredited can be directly transferred free of charge for college credits. More information on MOOC courses for credits can be found in this article titled Can You Get University Credits For MOOC Courses?


Since there are numerous ways for individual students to design their college studies, the role of a student counselor becomes very important. Once you enroll into the degree program, you will be assigned one of the college’s student counselors who will work with you on a degree plan and answer all your questions.

The degree plan is a living document and you can keep modifying/ updating it as you finish individual courses or if you decide to take different courses or exams than earlier planned.

Before choosing any new courses or exams, be sure to consult with your student counselor for their feedback on acceptability of the course/ exam for credits transfer or evaluation.


Standardized exams are exams conducted by the college board which are pre-approved for earning college credits at many US and North American colleges. They are also inexpensive and are a great way to quickly earn college credits affordably.

CLEP and DSST are the most popular and affordable exams conducted by the College Board for directly earning between 3 to 6 college-level credits per exam.

Other standardized exams include UExcel (from Excelsior college), TECEP (from Thomas Edison), and COSC (from Charter Oak State college).

More information on CLEP and other such exams can be found in this earlier post. More about CLEP study guides can be found here.


Portfolio or prior-learning assessment is suitable for anyone who has a lot of learning via non-accredited courses or work experience that fits the degree curriculum.

Each degree completion college program has its own process for this assessment.

Not everyone is eligible for a portfolio evaluation. In most cases, the college student counselor or program office first needs to approve the student’s eligibility for a portfolio evaluation.

To be eligible, the student needs to have:

  1. A substantial amount of non-formal learning
  2. Learning should fit within the degree curriculum
  3. The learning should not be covered in a CLEP, DSST or other standardized exam
  4. If the learning is also part of a standardized exam curriculum, then the students will be advised to take up the standardized exam to substantiate their learning (instead of a portfolio evaluation).

There is also a fee for every credit that is awarded via portfolio evaluation and in many cases, the evaluation can take several months.

Source: Thomas Edison State college at https://www.tesu.edu/degree-completion/pla-100-and-pla-200

Additionally, before a student can begin the portfolio assessment process, there are one or more courses he/she needs to complete at the degree completion college as preparation. Some examples of such courses include:

Here is additional information on how to go about creating a student portfolio for the Prior Learning Assessment:


Degree completion programs make it possible for students to combine all their learning from multiple sources into a single college degree.

For those who wish to complete college in an accelerated way, a strong motivation and clear planning will allow them to finish college quickly with such a program.

Students can also save a lot of money and time by combining all their learning this way.

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