It’s a fair question. Ascend is, after all, a higher education program. College is probably a pretty important part of why you’re here.
But it’s also not the only reason you’re here — and in our opinion, it’s not the most important thing we do. So how does college work with Ascend?
Let’s look first at an overview of our educational model and priorities. Then we’ll walk through the process of what it looks like to earn credit through Ascend and ultimately graduate with your fully accredited bachelor’s degree.
1. Project-Based Higher Education
Ascend is a project-based higher education program, which means that the core of what we do is focused on helping you to translate your academic and nonacademic studies into practical, actionable steps that equip you for life. We believe you’re called to greater things than most people settle for, that there are often better ways to learn those things than merely sitting in a classroom, and that your education should equip you for a life of impact. Beyond your academic classes, you’ll also regularly hear from field experts in a variety of key disciplines, develop and hone crucial life and leadership skills, and apply everything you’ve learned in a significant Ascend Project.
Ascend is not in and of itself a degree-granting institution, but we serve as an effective liaison between you and your target school – helping you earn a fully accredited bachelor’s degree at the pace you want while allowing you to pursue leadership, character, and community.
2. Prior Credit
As with most higher education institutions, you’ll share any unofficial transcripts with us before or during enrollment in Ascend. This allows us to determine how many credits you will be able to take before matriculating into your target school. If you have a lot of previous credit, you’ll end up enrolling in your target school sooner than someone who does not have any credit.
3. Degree and School
If you don’t already have a decision made, you’ll work with our advising team to choose a target degree and school. You are not restricted to graduating from one of our (currently six) partner schools, although selecting one of these schools often provides a streamlined experience and typically offers maximum credit transfer and affordability. However, we can still support degrees offered from non-partner schools — but just know that you’ll probably be restricted in how much outside credit they will accept and how much flexibility you will have in the courses you can take.
4. Earning Credit
Once you’ve decided on the degree you want and the school you want to graduate from, Ascend will work with a partner to build out your full degree plan. This will list all the courses you need to graduate with the degree you want from your target school as well as all the details about those courses — for example, what type of class (self-paced course, facilitated course, etc.) and where it is offered from. You’ll also see how many courses you will take before matriculating into your target school.
Eventually, you’ll have earned all the credit you can on your own, and it will be time to enroll in your target school! Let’s assume that you’re earning an Organizational Leadership degree from Belhaven University. Once you’ve completed all the courses you can, you’ll apply to your target school. This process is often streamlined for our partner schools, and tuition is also discounted for partner schools.
From this point on, you’ll be taking classes (most often your upper division courses) directly from your target school. Unless you’ve elected to graduate with a residential degree – in which case you’ll now move on-campus — these courses will still be online, but they will be specifically offered from your college.
Does this mean I am done with Ascend? Not necessarily — we hope you’ll stay connected! Students who have matriculated into their target schools and have not completed all three years in Ascend are eligible to continue in Ascend, sans credit. These students participate in an Ascend Experience package that includes everything but their courses, and this allows them to continue building on their previous certifications.
If you opt to step out of Ascend, you can do so knowing that you’re part of an alumni community that’s now over ten thousand strong – and you’re welcome to stay involved as much or as little as makes sense for you. But we hope that before you leave, you’ll invest some of your experiences and expertise in the next class of Ascend students — and pass along some of the lessons of life and leadership you’ve gained along the way.
After you’ve completed the remaining courses required for your degree, you’ll apply for graduation! This process will also be conducted through your college. At this point, it’s time for celebration! Many of our students choose to participate in their school’s traditional graduation ceremony, but a vast majority also — or exclusively — choose to participate in Unbound’s unofficial graduation ceremony, alongside the fellow students and friends they have come to know so well.
What if I don’t want a degree?
That’s fine – you don’t have to earn a degree to be part of Ascend! In fact, after a year or two, you might decide that college isn’t the path for you. That doesn’t keep you from finishing out your Ascend experience, even as you pursue other options for professional development. You’ll graduate Ascend with valuable certifications, and you can also pursue outside certifications and work experience during your time with Ascend.