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What to look for when choosing an online degree

June 14, 2019 9:59am

With all the advancements in technology, online college program offerings have grown in numbers over the years. But with so many different programs available today, how do you choose which college or program is right for you? There are factors you should consider and questions you should have answered before enrolling to ensure you are entering a program that will fit well with your schedule and offer you the most enriching educational experience.

Is the school accredited?

The school you attend should be either nationally or regionally accredited. This means the college is voluntarily assessed by an independent accrediting agency on the quality of the programs it provides. Why does this matter? For starters, this ensures you are attending a legitimate college with valuable degree programs and curriculum. Also, most students rely on some type of financial aid to attend college. Those attending non-accredited schools are not eligible for federal financial aid. You can check a database of accredited schools on the U.S. Department of Education website to see if your school is federally recognized. This also affects your credit transfer. If you have earned credits at a regionally accredited school, then other regionally or nationally accredited schools will accept them. You should note, however, that due to the difference in national and regional accreditation, most regionally-accredited colleges do not accept credits from those with national accreditation. You can read more about the differences in national and regional accreditation and why it matters here.

What is the credit transfer policy?

You should reach out to the admissions department of the college you are considering and inquire about their credit transfer policy. How many credits they accept from college you have already attending is going to affect your timeline and pocketbook. If you are going to have to re-take courses that you have taken previously, you might want to take a look at other programs to see if they can save you time and money. Some schools will also award credit for military service and work experience, so it’s worth asking about these options as well.

What are the degree requirements?

You should do your research into the exact requirements of your degree program ahead of time. Check to be sure if it is all online or hybrid. Some online degrees require students meet some on ground. Others require learners log on at certain times for class discussion or instruction. Be sure that if this is the case, your schedule will allow for these obligations. Many working adult learners prefer their classes be 100% online so they can fit classes in as their job and family life allow. Take a good look at the type and number of courses required to complete the program and make sure it is something you are willing to commit to.

What are the credentials of the faculty teaching the program?

Many schools love to tout that their online programs are taught by “industry experts” or “practicing professionals”. This helps bolster the reputation of their programs. If faculty information is given on the school’s website, check it out. Find out what they do in their time away from the online classroom. If they truly are a practitioner in that field of study, then they can bring real value to your online experience. LinkedIn is also an excellent resource for information about a person’s professional experience. Do what digging you can ahead of time to find out how much expertise your instructor has.

What student resources and tech support are available?

One of the biggest fears many students have completing a degree online is the lack of support they’ll receive from the college while attending in another city, state, or even country. This is another thing to research on the school’s website and ask about when you speak with an admissions counselor. Find out what services are going to be available to you. Are there library, writing, and career services that will be accessible to you? How will you access them online from a different time zone? What technical support does the college offer its online students and do they offer after hours support? Many adult learners work on coursework in the middle of the night depending on home life and career schedules, so be sure that services will be available to you should you run into issues.

You might also enjoy reading these articles:

Debunking the Fears of Returning to School
Are Accelerated Courses Right for Me?
5 Ways to Feel Connected to Your College While Taking Classes Online

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