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Earning a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree Online: Ask the Right Questions to Make Sure It Counts – Part 2

8/29/2012 11:19 am

Online University Checklist

This is the second in a three-part series on how to do your research in selecting an online college. Part 1 dealt with how to start your search, and part 3 will explain what your research will show you about WGU as an online option. Part 3 will be posted later this week.

Returning to school is a major life decision, and choosing the right university for you calls for doing some serious research. If you’re looking to attend an online university, you’re going to want to spend some time exploring the options out there.

This week, we’ve been exploring how to do your homework before enrolling in any university. If you haven’t already, read the first steps to choosing an online college from yesterday’s post.

Questions to ask when selecting an online university

There are many sources you should look to for answers to your questions about online degree programs—the enrollment offices at the universities you are considering are a critical source of information, but you should also look to Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., to learn what students, graduates, employers, and academic experts have to say about the school.

  • Is the university accredited? The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Department has determined to be reliable authorities. Accreditation is a must-have to ensure that employers and other academic institutions will respect and recognize your degree.
  • What is the university’s background? Its ownership? Make sure you understand whether the school is part of a privately or publicly held company or a nonprofit institution. This may not be the factor that governs your choice, but it is important to know all you can about the university you select. Many for-profit institutions offer quality programs, but they may charge more or dedicate more resources to marketing and recruitment than a nonprofit university, making tuition costs higher.
  • How will you learn? Most online universities use technology to distribute traditional classroom education—classes that are led by a professor or instructor with a fixed schedule and syllabus. While the classes are usually scheduled to accommodate working adults, you’ll move through the course at a set pace. You may want to consider a competency-based approach to learning, which will allow you to move at your own pace and advance when you demonstrate your mastery of subject matter.
  • What kind of help and support will I have? For many students, going to college online, without the interaction provided by an on-campus experience, can be a daunting prospect. Be sure to ask how you will interact with the faculty and what kind of support is available.
  • It’s online—will I connect with other students, and if so, how? Although you are choosing to go to college online, interacting with other students can enrich your learning experience and help you feel connected. Online universities are developing a number of ways for students to connect through chat rooms, webinars, and social media—it is important to find out what the school is doing to engage and connect with students.
  • How much will it cost? Tuition at online universities varies widely, from approximately the same cost as a public university to more than twice as much. Higher cost does not necessarily mean higher quality at an online college, so be sure to understand all of the costs—tuition, books, and fees—before you make your decision. Keep in mind that in online higher education, higher cost does not equate to higher quality. Another factor in your cost consideration should be the length of time you expect to take to complete your degree—the longer it takes, the more it is likely to cost.
  • How will you pay for your degree program? Depending on your income, you may be eligible for a government grant, particularly a Pell grant, to help pay for your education. A federal student loan may also be an option, but take care not to borrow more than you need or incur too much debt. If you expect to use financial aid, be sure to find out whether the school you’re considering is eligible.
  • Will my degree be respected by employers? If you want your degree to count, make sure to answer this question before you choose your school. Ask for information about alumni placements, employer surveys, and graduate rankings on national test scores.

Tomorrow’s post will look at the things you’ll learn about WGU as you do your research. WGU is not the right fit for everyone; our mission is to make sure students find the right degree programs for their needs. To continue, click here.

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