In some ways, choosing an online education program is more complicated than selecting a university campus. There are hundreds of virtual institutions claiming to have prestige, world-class instructors, and degrees that will open doors. However, not all online programs are created equal. Registering for a program is a huge moment in your life, and should be taken seriously. Research every school before making your final decision. With a little extra effort, you’ll discover the ideal program for your needs. Below, we will outline six critical questions to ask when vetting each online college.
Before you bog yourself down in the details of the online program, you should find out whether it has accreditation from a respected agency. Accreditation is a seal of quality — it proves that a college has resources and competent teachers making it competitive in today’s educational landscape. There are regional and national accreditation bureaus, so make sure to look them up and find out what programs have which accreditations. Just like schools and programs, all accrediting agencies aren’t equal. Some may only govern a small region preventing your credits from transferring or worse, preventing your degree or certificate from amounting to much. Make sure that your programs accreditor received approval by either the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the US Department of Higher Education.
Most colleges will have entirely different program offerings. Available programs may vary between the online and on-campus space as well. Make sure that your chosen school has a fully online program; otherwise, you might be in for a pretty long commute. Some “online” programs require monthly or annual visits to the physical campus. Make sure if you choose one with this requirement that you can make the trip. If you’re having trouble selecting a particular program, we recommend choosing colleges with a wide variety of majors. That way you won’t need to transfer schools down the road.
Colleges live and die by their reputation, and with today’s digital culture, you can instantly find out what people think about a program. First, start by looking at online college rankings, which serve as a barometer for a program’s overall quality. If a college is not showing up on any of the major rankings, that should be a warning sign. Then, dig a little deeper and read a few pages of personal reviews. Sites like GradReports and OnlineDegreeReviews are like Yelp for online colleges. They can be extremely valuable when it comes to getting an actual student’s perspective.
If you’re starting an online program after completing courses at another institution, it’s important to know the organization’s credit transfer policies. Knowing this can help save time and money on redundant coursework. You’ll want to fulfill degree requirements as quickly and cost-effectively as possible. Some online colleges will only accept credits from an institution that shares the same accreditation. Make sure you do your research!
One huge benefit of online learning is that tuition is inherently more affordable. You’re not paying to use the school gym, attend football games, or join clubs, so you only need to worry about tuition. Since your professors only need be accessible via a computer screen, this reduces costs. That said, overpricing within online colleges does occur, so research a few comparisons with programs of similar a rank. Many online programs offer federal financial aid and scholarships as well.
Finally, it’s important to learn how each school structures their schedules. A typical on-campus college will have three or four enrollment periods a year, but online programs can have much more, or considerably less, than that. You might even be able to start taking courses within a few weeks’ time.
Good luck with the college search, and here’s to your future education!