How to Choose the Right Online College

For many in today’s economy, the job market has become so difficult that you may be considering furthering your education in hopes of becoming more competitive in this tough job market, or getting an entirely new degree in hopes of changing fields.

However, many people find that they simply cannot quit their current jobs and return to school full time, so they are considering taking part in one of the country’s fastest growing industries: online education.

If you are interested in pursuing educational courses or a formal degree online, there are some things you should consider:

• Types of Online Schools

• Program Accreditation

• Cost

Types of Online Schools

There are a wide variety of online schools. Perhaps the most well known and certainly best advertised of the online schools are the for-profit universities that only exist online, like Phoenix University or Kaplan University.

Since these for-profit universities have no central campus, their programs are designed entirely with the at home, online student in mind. As these schools grow in popularity, they also have grown in the types of degree programs they offer, including Associate’s, Bachelor’s, and even some Master’s programs.

Traditional campus based universities and colleges are also offering online degree programs these days, commonly called distance education programs. Most traditional universities offer fewer and more specific online degree programs, so it’s important to know in advance what you would like to study and then investigate which schools offer your specific program.

Unlike online schools like Phoenix, however, many distance education programs can include courses which require proctored exams. This means that your exams will have to be taken under approved supervision, generally at another college or educational institution, like your local library.

Finally, there are free online educational sources, like the Khan Academy or Udemy. These free sources are not for those seeking official college degrees, but rather for people who might be looking to add certain skills and talents to their resume and would like an affordable way to acquire them.

Accreditation

Regardless of what school you choose, you must check to see whether or not the program of your intended study is accredited. When your program is properly accredited, this means that it has been reviewed by a trust third party organization and been found to meet the industry standard’s necessary for that particular degree.

Many people believe that if a school offers a program that automatically means the program will be accepted in their chosen career field. Unfortunately, some schools may offer programs – and particularly online programs – that are not actually accredited. So you can invest lots of time, money, and effort in order to receive a degree which could not be recognized by your potential employers.

If you are interested in checking on a potential program’s accreditation, you should be able to obtain that information from the school itself, or you can check accreditation here.

Cost

Most traditional universities that offer distance education online programs will price their online degrees the same way they price their individual degrees – by credit hour or course. In these instances, it is important to determine the necessary number of classes you will need to complete your program, and what the cost of each individual class will be to understand your overall cost.

Other programs may have one set tuition cost for completing a specific program through their school. However, even with this upfront cost assessment, you’ll want to carefully review your program to see if there are additional fees for books, software programs, online portfolio subscription services, or any variety of other potential charges.

Also, if you are considering taking out student loans to pay for your online education, it is important to know that in the future it will likely be more difficult to receive Federal loans if you are attending a school that identifies as a for-profit educational institution. There is controversy surrounding these institutions and their costs as compared to non-profit institutions.

Final Thoughts

For the working adult who is pressed for time but would still like to pursue a new degree, further a degree, or just acquire new skills, online education can be a lifesaver, especially as recent studies have shown that online degrees are just as likely to be accepted by employers as traditional degrees, as long as your program is accredited.

For more information on reliable, respectable online educational programs, check out US News and their reviews of programs by various criteria, including faculty credentials, student services, and students’ assessment. You can also read additional online college reviews or, if you've had experience with online schools, review one here.

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