Since 2012, millions of students have enrolled in online colleges, and traditional colleges and universities can no longer ignore the trend. Many brick and mortar schools now offer online programs both in addition to, and in conjunction with, their campus classes. There are also growing numbers of colleges which advertise fully online degree programs as well. The competition is heating up, and that can only be good news for students as tuition prices become more competitive.
[Did you know you can now earn a bachelor’s degree using free online courses? Learn more.]
There are many reasons why students might be interested in earning college degrees online. For a busy parent or someone with a full-time job, online courses can offer the flexibility to juggle educational needs with daily chores. For students without geographical access to colleges that offer them the programs they desire, online college programs offer great options when relocation isn’t possible. Online colleges offer students of all ages the options they need for learning new skills and advancing their careers.
If earning a college degree online sounds like it could be a good choice for you, the next step is to choose a reputable online college. But how can you tell the difference between a good online school and a useless diploma mill? Here are 5 tips to help you sort out which online college programs will be the most beneficial to you :
1. Choose An Accredited Online College
A legitimate accreditation is important if you want your degree to hold any weight in the job market. Check the school’s website for the name of its accrediting body—a reputable online school should make that information available up front. Then visit the U.S. Department of Education’s accreditation database to find out more about a specific online college. The Council for Higher Education also has a database of recognized accrediting agencies.
2. Check Out The School’s Faculty
While you’re online, do a little digging to find out who your professors will be and what kind of reputations they have. How long have they been teaching? Are they respected within their fields? Have they published anything? Check out their profiles on LinkedIn and look for student reviews.
3. Ask What Support Services The Online College Offers
Although learning online offers less student-teacher contact than a traditional classroom does, you should expect to be able to get help and feedback when you need it. Ask an online college how often you will be able to contact the instructors and how quickly you should expect replies. Will contact be by email? by Skype? How many students will a professor have? Who will help you with technical problems? Also, find out if there are any services available to students beyond the classroom, like career services, for instance.
4. Find Out About Transferring Credit
Transferring credit is a two-way street. If you have previous college credit to transfer in, make sure the online college you choose will accept them. Then check to see if other schools will accept credits from the online college you want to attend in case you decide to transfer out. The better an online college’s reputation, the more likely their credits will transfer.
5. Get Credit For Prior Learning
Maybe life has already taught you some skills that are worth college credit. Choose an online college that allows you to leverage prior learning into college credit through a petitioning process, or through taking CLEP (college-level examination program) exams. Both methods of earning college credit for prior experience will lower the overall cost of your degree program as well as accelerate the process. Steer clear of programs that offer to confer entire college degrees based on nothing else but life experience, for a fee, as these are usually scams.
Before signing up for any online college degree program, it is a good idea to try some free online courses to find out if you have what it takes to be a successful online student. Online learning requires a certain amount of discipline and self-motivation, especially if you are someone who likes to procrastinate, but it can be a great option for the right people!
Do you have any tips for online learning? Share them with our readers.