Online Higher Education: Make the Right Choice

For a growing number of degree-seekers, the idea of getting a college degree from an online university is becoming increasingly attractive. The flexibility and convenience of online universities allow adults who are juggling responsibilities like work and family to advance their education without abandoning their lives. But with this increased interest in online higher education, many new colleges and universities are appearing on the scene, making it harder than ever to choose. With all of these choices available, choosing the right online university for your needs can be a daunting task.

So, if you’re seriously thinking about getting your bachelor’s or master’s degree from an online university, here are six important things to consider carefully:

  1. Degree programs – does the school offer the degree program you need to advance your education and career? Can you earn a teaching degree that will allow you to be licensed as a teacher? Is there a master’s degree program that will help you progress in your profession?
  2. Accreditation – is the school accredited? Online universities should have regional accreditation, which is the same accreditation given to brick and mortar schools like Harvard and Stanford. Individual degree programs in subjects like Education and Nursing should also be accredited by bodies such as NCATE and CCNE. If the school you’re considering is not accredited, your online college degree may not be respected by employers and graduate schools, so if it’s not accredited, it’s not for you.
  3. Credibility and Reputation – will employers want to hire you if you get your degree from this school? Ask the enrollment staff at the university you’re considering to share feedback (surveys, etc.) from employers who’ve hired their grads. If they can’t provide this information, this could be a red flag.
  4. Academic model – be sure you understand how you’ll be expected to study, learn, and complete tests and assignments. There are several different models available:
    • Many online universities simply repackage traditional college courses, requiring students to attend class online at prescribed times and sometimes requiring group projects.
    • Others, like Western Governors University, provide students with learning resources in degree subject matter, allowing students to study and learn on their own schedules, advancing in their degrees as they demonstrate competence through tests and other assessments rather than simply spending time in class.
    • Still others combine online work with actual attendance in a traditional classroom. Be sure to consider your lifestyle, motivation, ability to study independently, and time available as you consider which academic model is best for you.
  5. Value and affordability – it’s likely that you have a limited amount of money to spend on school, so be sure to look at all of the costs. While some online universities, particularly the non-profits, have tuition that’s comparable to that of a state institution, others are almost twice as much. While almost all offer financial aid in the form of student loans, make sure to choose wisely—you don’t want to graduate with any unnecessary debt.
  6. Student service and support – will you be able to get the help and support you need when you need it? Since you won’t be on a campus, make sure that the school you choose provides the support you’ll need to feel connected. Will you be assigned an advisor or mentor? How often will you be able to communicate with an advisor, and who will be available to provide extra help and support when you need it? Will you have access to an online community of students?

An online university can be the ideal solution for working adults who want to get their bachelor’s or master’s degree, and there are some excellent schools who offer rigorous, challenging, and respected degree programs. So if you’re ready to start, take a little time to do some research and answer these questions before you choose your school. You’ll be glad you did.