Online degree programs are now very common, and it’s hard these days to find a school that doesn’t offer several. They are a great option for those who work full-time because they give you a way to continue your education without having to put your life on hold.
As common as these programs now are, it’s important to keep in mind that not all of them are the same. Just as you wouldn’t buy the first car you see when shopping for a new vehicle, you also want to take your time when shopping for an online degree program to make sure you find the right one for your budget and needs.
You’ll be putting the school you graduate from on your resume for the rest of your life, so it’s vitally important that you make the right selection.
Here are several things to consider when evaluating different schools and their programs:
What Factors Should Determine Where you Attend an Online School?
Here are several things to consider when evaluating different schools and their programs. I'll share how to choose an online college from the best colleges online.
1. Check the School’s Accreditation
Accreditation is one of the most important things to consider. Don’t just assume everything’s okay in this department because a school has been around for a long time and has a big, fancy campus. Things happen, and occasionally schools have their accreditation revoked or they are put on probation.
In the United States, the primary type of accreditation to look for is known as regional accreditation. There are six accrediting agencies that are each responsible for making sure schools that are located within their respective regions meet minimum standards. A school only needs to be accredited by one of these agencies.
It’s also important to note that there is nothing that requires a school to be accredited. Most new schools, in fact, start off without any form of accreditation. There are also some schools that choose to forgo formal accreditation for religious reasons. If you do earn credits from an unaccredited school and later decide to change schools, however, your credits may not transfer.
2. Is the School For-Profit or Non-Profit?
Not all schools are structured the same way. Some are non-profit, meaning they reinvest the majority of the money they take in to further the school’s mission. Others are for-profit, meaning they are structured more like a corporation and exist to make money for investors.
Some for-profit schools in recent years have earned bad reputations for charging high tuition and graduating students who are unable to find meaningful work with their degrees. Not all for-profit schools are bad though. Some are actually quite good.
Unfortunately, because of the questionable business practices of the bad schools in recent years, many employers are now suspicious of degrees awarded by for-profits in general. Maybe this perception will change sometime in the future, but for now, it’s important to realize that there is a stigma associated with these schools.
Most state colleges and universities are structured as non-profits. Many private schools are as well. If you aren’t sure of a school’s financial structure, just ask.
3. How Long Has the School Existed?
You definitely want to earn your online degree from a school with a strong reputation. And schools that are established with long histories tend to be viewed more favorably than schools that are newer. That doesn’t necessarily mean that older schools are always better. There are many newer schools that are quite good. It’s a matter of perception.
4. Consider the Cost
One of the most important things to consider is the tuition. How much does a degree from a particular school cost?
Not all schools charge the same. In fact, the cost difference from one school to another can often be dramatic. A private school, for example, is probably going to be significantly more expensive than a public school and some colleges are even free.
It pays to shop around to find a school with the best price. Just as you wouldn’t buy a car, TV, or washing machine without comparing costs, it’s also a good idea to see what different schools charge before making a commitment.
5. Is the School Located in Your State?
Even though you are checking out online degree programs, where the school is physically located still matters. If you go with a school that is located in another state, you could end up paying a lot more in tuition. Not all schools charge extra for out-of-state students, but many do.
Another factor to consider is whether you want people to know you earned your degree online. Online degrees are very common these days, but there are still some people – mostly those of older generations – who turn their noses up at them. Many employers won’t question your online degree during the interview if you earn it from a school located in the state you live.
6. Will Previously Earned Credits Transfer?
If you have already earned some college credits from another school, you want to make sure the school you choose will accept as many credits as possible.
All schools have their own policies regarding the acceptance of transfer credit, and there’s no law or regulation that requires them to accept anything. Some will accept all of your transfer credits, while others will be more selective in the credits they accept. There are also some schools that don’t accept any transfer credit.
The more credits you can transfer to a school, the less you will have to spend to complete your degree. An admissions adviser should be able to tell you which credits a school will accept in transfer.
7. Talk to People Who Work in Your Field
Are you not sure if a particular school has a strong reputation in the career you are interested in? Just ask those who currently work in that field. They might just know.
There are some schools that have earned reputations for graduating strong job candidates in particular fields. Other schools – not so much. Their graduates may be known for not being fully prepared to enter the job market.
8. Read Student Reviews
In your search for the best school for your needs, be sure to take the time to read some student reviews. You can easily find student reviews by doing an internet search for the name of the school and “reviews” (e.g., “Liberty University reviews”).
Keep in mind as you read these reviews that even the best schools are going to have some bad reviews. There are some students who leave bad reviews in an attempt to get back at their school after earning bad grades, being put on academic probation, and for other issues.
9. Check the Stats
Does a high percentage of a particular school’s students graduate? If not, it might be an indication that many of the school’s students are not satisfied. Low graduation rates often mean students are transferring to other schools – or just dropping out.
Another metric to consider is the student loan default rate for a school. Is it higher than other schools? If so, it could be an indication that students are not able to find good jobs after graduating and are unable to make their monthly student loan payments.
10. How Many Credits Are Required to Graduate?
Different schools have different degree requirements to graduate – including the total number of credits. This is especially true for graduate programs. To earn an MBA at one school, for example, you may need to earn only 36 graduate credits. Another school may require 48 credits for the exact same degree.
The more credits you need to take in a degree program, the more you will have to pay in tuition. It may also take you longer to complete a degree program with a higher number of required credits. This an important consideration if you need your degree for employment or to earn a promotion.
11. Take Your Time
This list of things to evaluate is not exhaustive, and it does not represent everything you should check. You are sure to have some personal criteria you are looking for in a program to add. This list should be viewed only as a starting point.
When evaluating different schools and their degree programs, it’s important to take your time. Do your homework. You don’t want to run into a situation where the best school for your needs might have been the one you didn’t check out.
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