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I am thinking of getting a post-baccalaureate degree in botany (or biology with plant science concentration) in order to prepare for graduate work in the same field. (My previous work is in sociology and geography.) There are several state universities that offer all-online degree programs in biology or botany. I am hoping to hear from academics who sit on graduate admissions committees to programs in life and/or environmental sciences. How are online science degrees perceived, assuming the applicant has good grades, completed a quality capstone project/internship, and has strong technical writing skills?

I am concerned about the lack of in-person collaboration and work in institutional lab settings, which are available only with brick-and-mortar programs. Although with online instruction one can do lab work using a lab kit received by mail, there is a lack of direct supervision. I assume these are concerns graduate admissions committees would have with an online-only degree. Are my suspicions correct?

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated.

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  • Are these places that offer them R1 universities or at a lower level? Wikipedia has a list of research universities in the US.
    – Buffy
    Nov 2 '21 at 20:52
  • Buffy, Oregon State University is R1 and they have an online BS in Botany that I was considering. University of Alaska Fairbanks is R2. Thanks for letting me know about the Wiki list.
    – Rhodope
    Nov 2 '21 at 23:31
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I do not think online programs are considered on equal footing to brick-and-mortar, whether or not that is fair. See also: Distance learning: taken seriously?

A second issue you may face is in developing individual relationships with professors. There are multiple questions here where people in a virtual educational setting are struggling to make the sorts of contacts that can be eventual letter writers, including those in temporary virtual environments during the pandemic. Letters of recommendation are important for graduate admissions in the US.

The biggest issue you may face, though, is that the most important single factor in admissions in biology in the US is research experience (coupled with a strong letter of recommendation from at least one professor who has supervised your research and sees high potential in you as a graduate student). I am skeptical that any capstone project or take-home lab experience will substitute for research experience you would get at a brick-and-mortar institution. Of course, it's also possible to attend a brick-and-mortar institution and not participate in those activities, but I'm worried you won't even have access to them.

If you were starting your BS, I would suggest you look into whether the credits you get from these online institutions are transferrable to another state university's primary campus. If so, you might consider doing your first two years online and then transferring for your final two years. I think that would be the best balance between the flexibility and cost savings of online education and the preparation expected for most applicants to US grad schools in your field.

Since it seems you already have a bachelor's degree, I would recommend either looking at options for a masters degree with the education you currently have, or trying to get a research job in biology. There's not usually much reason to get an entire new BS degree in a new field. Masters programs, especially at state universities, tend to have less strict expectations for prior coursework - you might need to take an extra year of classes catching up in your major field.

I'm assuming a bit that your eventual goal is a PhD, though you just mentioned graduate admissions; there are very few (~0) jobs where a MS in a biology field will get you a job that a BS wouldn't (or a BS+years industry experience).

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