Online college degrees are an increasingly popular option for higher education in today’s competitive workplace in business, IT, nursing, K–12 education, and virtually any industry. These programs can be especially beneficial for busy adults who find themselves looking for ways to balance their work, their families, and their desire to earn their degrees.
Not all programs are alike. Here are five crucial factors to consider when reviewing your options to apply for an online degree:
1. Is the online degree program accredited? One of the most common mistakes for those considering different online college programs is to focus on the cost of the degree instead of the value. Accreditation ensures the the university you select has passed rigorous requirements from organizations that specialize in determining quality within higher education. Regional accreditation is the gold standard of accreditation for colleges and universities, indicating the school has earned the approval of an accrediting body recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. If the school you select is not accredited properly it will undermine the work you invest because other institutions and employers may not recognize your degree or credits.
2. How fast can I graduate? Most people assume that online higher education automatically ensures a fast track to graduation because of the flexibility of the internet. The reality can be very different. Depending on the school’s policies you could be held back from moving through your degree as quickly as possible. Here are some things to consider:
- How much can I transfer from my previous college experience? Many schools accept previous college coursework, even if you did not finish your degree.
- Can I leverage my current work experience in earning my degree? Many adults considering returning to school are earning degrees in fields where they already work. A few schools offer competency-based education, which allows you to speed up your degree progress by moving more quickly through topics you already know well.
- How does the school support me while in the degree program? Distance learning can seem lonely. Make sure the school you select has an excellent support system to help you along the way.
- How many courses can I take at a time? Depending on the school, you may be limited on how fast you can take courses. Even online universities often require you to log in to courses at a given time throughout the course of a semester. Other schools open access for you to work on courses on your own schedule, enabling you to take as many courses as you are able to complete in a term. Important side note: Online colleges have different definitions for terms/semesters than traditional schools (example: WGU terms are on a 6-month schedule).
3. How committed am I? One myth of online universities is that they are “easier” than traditional schools. Accredited online schools have to pass the same requirements as traditional schools, and high-quality distance learning can often be more rigorous than traditional campus study. With increased flexibility comes the increased reliance on your own ability to be self-driven. As mentioned before, the degree to which faculty, staff, and fellow students are available to offer support—coupled with your drive to succeed—go a long way in determining the level of success you’ll achieve.
4. Will this online degree be worth it? Value is a measure of both cost and quality. The first three questions on this checklist are major indicators of the quality of a school’s educational experience. But you also have to take into account the quality of the results your degree helps you achieve. A Harris Poll found that WGU graduates saw an average salary increase of $12,500 within 2 years of graduation. With the right university and program, a college degree is still one of the best investments to improve your career progress.
5. How much does an online degree cost? Cost should not be the sole factor in deciding which school to attend. But it’s also true that quality doesn’t have to cost a lot. Once the total cost of the degree—including more than just the tuition fees—are taken into account, WGU has created a comparison of how much online degrees cost compared against major institutions.
Choosing the best online university is an important decision. The guidelines in this article will help you know what questions to ask that can direct your decision and, ultimately, lead you to success.