Earning a Degree Online
A list of important considerations and questions you should ask as part of the process of determining which online degree program is right for you.
Picking an online college is like picking a pair of shoes. A pair that fits your friend perfectly may pinch your toes. The goal is to find the college that’s right for you. You will be spending a lot of time and money on your education so it pays to do your research. Here are a few tips and questions to ask that may help you find a college you are comfortable with.
Is the college accredited?
Accreditation means the college has met and maintains certain academic and administrative standards. There are some questionable organizations out there. The U.S. Department of Education website gives an overview of accreditation and list organizations recognized by the Secretary of Education. They also maintain a database of accredited colleges.
Most major colleges have regional accreditation. Click here for a list of regional accreditation agencies.
Don’t assume a college is bad because you haven’t heard of it or that it is good because you have heard of it.
Some colleges with large on-campus student bodies do not put much effort into their online degree programs. Often they offer a limited number of classes and majors. On the other hand, there are smaller schools that offer a wide range of programs and put a lot of time and effort into their online offerings.
- Are all of the materials I need online?
- Will I need to buy books?
- Can I find books on my own, or do I have to buy them from the school?
Who do I contact if I need help?
- How soon will instructors get back to me?
- Are there IT people available if I have technical difficulties?
- Who do I contact if I’m having a problem with an instructor?
- Are tutors available if I need academic help?
Are there certain times I need to be online?
Some classes may allow you to do the work whenever you are available. Some may require that you are online at specific times to interact with the instructor or fellow students.
How will I take my tests?
Some colleges may require that you set up a proctor to host your test taking.
Will I be able to contact my fellow students?
Being able to interact with other students is an important part of the learning process. Most online classes should have a message board or chat room or the ability to email other students.
Some other important questions
- Can the whole degree be completed online?
- Are all of the classes available online?
- Will I ever have to come to campus (some programs may require you to come to campus for an orientation)?
Will my transcript or diploma say I took online classes?
There are still a few (and getting fewer all the time) who don’t believe online classes are on par with on campus classes. There is no reason your transcript or diploma need to reflect that you completed your degree online.
With a little work you can find an online college that will provide you with a positive educational experience. Good luck with your studies!