Online Education: Many people today are considering furthering their education through online college courses, particularly in today’s economy, in hopes that it will help them better qualify for, and thus obtain, a high quality job. Getting an online degree is like any other investment; it requires time, energy, and money today, but the payoffs in the future can be high. Even the experience of obtaining a higher education can be rich and rewarding. Studies have shown that increasing your level of education correlates directly with opportunities for employ and financial gain.
Online Education Degree
With this in mind, you should not consider getting a degree an “easy” solution to financial difficulties. Getting a quality and accredited degree that will move you ahead in your career requires some research into the online schools and degree programs to find out which ones will teach you the skills you need and get you noticed in the workforce without leaving you with impossibly high student debt. With the right knowledge,
However, you can prepare yourself to find the best possible school for your online studies. Because preparing to obtain an online degree is the first and most important step in the process, we have prepared the following guide to assist you in beginning your exciting journey. Using this guide, you will be well prepared to find, apply, and be accepted to the best online college for you.
Evaluate the Schools
The first step to choosing an ideal online college or university is to learn about them. In addition to the quality of education and popularity of a given school, statistics such as graduation rates, costs, and the opinion of potential employers in your field. The following steps detail the types of information you should look for:
Online School including traditional university
Evaluate a variety of online schools including traditional universities with an online program, public colleges with an online program, private non-profit online schools, and for-profit online schools. Look into the strengths, weaknesses, and costs of each program.
- Check the accreditation of the schools under consideration. Information on accredited schools can be found at: www.chea.org and ope.ed.gov/accreditation/
- Call and ask about their credit transfer policies and how many of your previous education credits will transfer to the new school. If you plan on attending another school later, check with that school to see what credits and degrees they will accept from the online schools of interest.
- Ask professional associations and employers or potential employers about how they feel about the particular degree you are seeking from the schools of interest. Note that some degrees from a school may have more recognition than other degrees. Also note that traditional universities do not distinguish on the diploma whether a degree was earned online, since a degree earned online is the same degree as the one offered on campus.
- Ask other students about their educational experience at the school and their employment opportunities after attending the school. How easy was it to translate the degree earned into improved job opportunities? How easy was it to use the degree earned as a stepping stone to a more advanced degree from another school later?
- Review the loan default rates of the institution. High rates of default on student loans by students that attended a particular school could indicate a potential problem with translating attending the school into better job opportunities. In particular, look up Loan Default Rates.
- How long has the school offered the online courses of interest? Effective online education has some unique requirements that are different than on campus programs. Therefore, online programs that have been offered for a while may have a better educational experience than programs fresh out of the gate.
- What practical hands-on experience does the school provide? What hands-on experience does the career require?
- Does the school offer traditional classroom education as well as online education? If so, does the online course require students to attend particular classes? Are the classes located nearby? Can you attend class even if they are not required?
- What are the admission requirements to the schools of interest?
Evaluate the Instructors
The next type of information that should be gathered is details about the instructors at the school. Don’t be fooled into thinking that this is not an important area; just because the learning is online doesn’t mean that instructors won’t play an important role in your education! Instructors will teach through recorded lectures, answer questions, create and grade assignments, and even prepare the course material uploaded to the class. Keeping this in mind, the following steps are key to evaluating properly the instructors at your online college of choice:
- Talk to the instructors of potential courses. What is their background and what are their degrees and from which schools? Ideally they should have a Ph. D. or at least a M.A. degree.
- How long have the instructors been teaching online courses?
- Ask about the instructor’s response to student emails and questions. What kind of response avenues do they offer and how timely are the responses? Does the school offer dial-in help lines during nights and weekends when online students are likely studying?
- How complete and understandable are the instructor’s requirements and schedules?
- What is the expected student to teacher ratio? Keeping this ratio low allows the instructor to spend more time with each student.
- Make sure the instructors are well trained in using their school’s online education software and the other latest software packages.
Evaluate the Online Education Technology
In addition to evaluating the people who will be teaching, it is crucial that you determine the quality of the technology that is used in obtaining your online college degree.
A fantastic instructor from an accredited school can only get so far if the technology results in poor communication opportunities, low availability, and high frustration due to technical problems. The following steps outline some key information that you should determine about the technology itself:
• Ask about the online software packages the school uses.
• What new online technologies does the school use, including face to face online discussions via Skype, or Net Meeting?
• Make sure that your own hardware, software, and Internet broadband connectivity is up to date and matches the requirements for the online course work. You can visit the potential school’s website to get a list of hardware and software requirements.
• What kind of technical support does the school offer if there are problems with the online education software? Do they offer dial in phone support as well as online support? Is the support offered 24 by 7 or is it limited to certain hours?
Evaluate Additional Online Educational Support
As important as the classes themselves are, there are many more things that can be experienced in college life, even through online courses, that can enrich and edify your educational experience. Not to be underestimated is the value of clubs, study groups, collaborative student resources, and other additional educational supports. The following points should certainly be considered:
• What additional support do the school and instructor provide while taking the courses? Are there online student clubs or other online student organizations available?
• How effective is the school’s online student community? Is it well organized and does it provide good support to other students?
• Check on the types of services the school offers from a distance such as advice on getting financial aid and academic decisions.
Evaluate the Course Work and Schedule
Probably one of the most important considerations for your potential online college degree program is to consider the commitment that will be required of you. Some courses require intensive study, resulting in a faster degree, while others let you complete work at a more relaxed pace, allowing for greater flexibility with a job or other large commitments. The length of time to complete the program may be a deal-maker, or a deal-breaker, depending on what you need! In learning about course work and scheduling, be sure to especially consider these things:
• How long does it take to complete the degree you want to earn from each school?
• How flexible are the course schedules? Do they allow for full-time jobs and family responsibilities?
•Do the courses require scheduled online class work at set times or are the courses primarily governed by deadlines, tests, and quizzes? The advantage of the former type of course is that it provides the student with constant motivation and feedback. The advantage of the later type of course is that it is more flexible and allows each student to progress independently, but requires more discipline and self motivation.
• How are the exams conducted? Are they taken primarily at a testing center or are they taken entirely online?
• How much study time does it typically take to complete each course?
• What is the typical graduation rate for the degree being sought at each school of interest?
• Online courses require a substantial amount of self discipline in a study environment without a lot of daily social interaction with other students. Be certain in advance that this type of study environment will work well for you.
• If you are new to online course work, ease into it to find out how well it works for you. Start with one course then expand later.
• Plan out your study schedule. Online courses require the same type of time commitment to consistent study as on campus courses. Remember, online courses are not easier than on campus courses. Neither can you skip, ignore, or be late with online course work anymore than you can for classes on campus. Plan for a dozen hours or more of study per course per week without any breaks until the course is complete.
• Be prepared to work cooperatively with other students online and to rearrange your schedule to meet the needs of an online team effort.
Evaluate the Costs and Benefits of Earning a Degree Online
Finally, and most importantly, before your embark on the educational path, you should really try to decide if the benefits of an increased education or college degree are worth the cost. As exciting, simple, and beneficial as an online college degree may be, to be perfectly honest, it may not be worth the cost! This is a choice that only you can make, however. Only you know what you are looking for, and what needs you would like to have met by earning a degree. Therefore the following considerations have been included to help you in your determination of both the costs and benefits of earning an online college degree:
• What is the total cost to earn the degree within a typical timeframe at the schools of interest? You should include the costs of tuition, books, fees, and other expenses. Check into any separate or extra fees or hidden costs beyond tuition. Be sure to compare total costs across all the types of online schools mentioned in the first section.
• What are the potential benefits from earning the degree? What type of career opportunities does it provide and what is the increase in potential pay? What is the current supply and demand for those job opportunities? Selecting the right career given the current job market and your particular skills is one of the most important steps in evaluating the benefits of further education.
What additional work experience is required to make full use of the degree? Do you have the necessary experience? If not, how long will it take to acquire it?
• Given the cost of earning the degree and the potential increase in pay, how long will it take you to recoup the cost of your education?
• What are your contingency plans if your online education gets delayed or if you don’t finish the degree?
This list may seem long, but these points are crucial to your being successful in obtaining your goals through an online college degree. By taking the time to understand these critical areas, you will be empowered with the knowledge you need to guide your online education efforts. With these points, you will be able to find the perfect online school for you, and then it’s just a matter of learning and studying!