If you’re in the middle of deciding between online schools and you’re feeling stuck, take a moment to appreciate the fact that you live in an age where these options are available. Online education is an incredible benefit. With 25 percent of college students over the age of 30, more and more working adults are taking advantage of educational options that didn’t exist for them 10 years ago and finding out you can get your degree without giving up your whole schedule.
According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, 32 percent of all students are pursuing their degree at least partially online, so when you search for the right online degree program, you may be overwhelmed by the options. Choosing the best one for you depends on both the value of the institution and your specific needs.
Is the School Reputable?
It’s the most basic of requirements, but when you’re looking for an online degree program, you have to first make sure it’s a legitimate school and not a diploma mill scam or a tiny institution that can’t provide you with a real degree. Luckily, the internet now ranks the top online universities and even Grad Schools for Military Veterans.
The programs they’ve evaluated are a good place to start your search. But you probably won’t be limiting yourself to that list, and that’s why it’s important that you check a school’s website for its accreditation and look for it in the Department of Education’s online database of accredited schools. If an admissions counselor tells you it’s in the process of being accredited or that overseas-based schools cannot receive U.S. accreditation, there’s a good chance the school is not legitimate.
Then look for other red flags. Do they promise you a degree in 30 days for a flat fee with no transcripts or test scores required? Never, ever fall for that.
Does it Meet Your Needs?
Not every online school is the same, and not every student has the same reasons for pursuing a degree online. Think about what you want out of your education, make a list, and talk to your admissions counselor about every topic on it. What are your priorities?
If it’s a flexible schedule, ask how often classes meet for video chats and live discussions, whether you ever have to make a trip to a physical campus, and how heavy the work and study load usually is. If you’re worried about having enough access to your professor, ask about the different forms of communication available, whether professors respond to phone calls or texts, and how close to the feeling of being in the classroom the program can get.
Also, don’t just ask the school’s representatives. They’re trying to get you to choose their program. Find third party websites and look for testimony from graduates and current students that will tell you what taking classes is really like. Try and find statistics – high completion rate, high employment rate, and a low rate of student loan defaults can say a lot about a school. Comparison shop.
Can You Afford It?
Many students ask the question, “Is online college more expensive than regular college?” It may seem that way at first. But online colleges can vary wildly in price, just like brick and mortar schools do.
The cheapest online degree programs are les than $10,000 per year, and the most expensive an top $40,000 so they are pretty comparable to state universities. If you’re looking at a private college, they will be noticeably more expensive, even compared to some for-profit schools.
Before you talk to a financial aid counselor about your options, remember online school saves you transportation costs, may lessen your need to buy textbooks, and gives you a flexible schedule so you can continue working while you learn. You also need to take a look at the school’s value. If you’re enrolling in a higher-priced college, make sure that it offers a degree that carries serious weight in your chosen industry and will help you get a good job.
Beware of financial aid counselors who will steer you towards amassing private loans as a means of paying for the school. And never let them try and negotiate on the price of credit hours – that’s a surefire sign of a scam.
Online learning continues to grow exponentially as more adults are returning to school and more high school graduates are looking for an alternative to the outrageous time and money commitment of a four-year university. As online education becomes the new normal, you’re faced with more options and schools become more competitive.
But that only means it’s easier than ever to find a program that’s completely tailored to what you really need.
Pam Rankin is an educational blogger who suggests researching your top college picks before committing. Follow her on Twitter @PamRWrites for more useful tips.