The foundation laid now often sets the tone for what the future will hold. This philosophy possesses very significant meaning in education. Selecting a place of higher learning definitely helps chart the course for future career opportunities and success. It may not be that any of the schools are necessarily wrong—it’s really about uncovering that one school that is right for you.
A few things to consider:
- Ask the online-accredited colleges to send brochures and information packets about their programs. Seeing the quality and depth of information sent will help determine the type of education they provide.
- Make a list of the online schools that are of interest and then compare them on a number of factors, including college residency requirements (the ones that require partial on-site education), class schedule availability, testing and admissions requirements, costs, financial aid availability and payment plans, educational backgrounds of instructors and degrees and programs offered.
- Look for schools that offer “value-added” services, including tutors, academic advisors, career counseling and placement, online library and education resources, interactive learning techniques, writing centers and technical assistance. Tech support is vital, as a system failure can very easily compromise learning.
- If you are resuming a degree program, be sure to check the school’s policy on transferring credits. You will save money and time if you can retain credit for work you have previously done.
- What is the school’s refund policy in case you cannot complete the course? For students balancing work, family and an online degree, it is often not possible to finish the program, despite the inherent flexibility of the programs. Research this in advance to avoid footing the bill later.
Taking things a step further, social networking is today’s new referral system for college students. After all, in today’s technologically connected world, who knows better than online friends and colleagues? Think about scanning Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or RateMyProfessors.com. All of these sites provide real-world reviews of online schools and provide more “behind-the-scenes” viewpoints than what many online university review sites may offer.
Consider also how prospective employers will view your online degree. About.com Distance Learning expert Jamie Littlefield explains in Get an Online Degree Employers Take Seriously that "if you want a degree that’s taken seriously in the workplace, you need to do two things. First, make sure you choose a school that has the proper regional accreditation. Second, if you expect the degree to earn you a promotion, make sure that you choose a program that’s appropriate for your workplace situation."
While the creditability of online learning is substantial, there are still diploma mills out there looking to cash in. Don’t get suckered.
ELearners.com has a great resource for spotting unaccredited schools selling worthless degrees. In addition, all schools listed through eLearners.com are accredited. For those looking to search independently, there are many resources available to ensure you are picking an accredited online school:
- U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation
- Accrediting Council of Independent Colleges and Schools
For those who have answered the big question of where to obtain an online bachelor's degree, there is an additional dilemma: paying for it, especially now that tighter credit restrictions are cutting back student aid funding sources. Traditional sources include:
GreenNote helps students gather resources from family, friends and colleagues through social networking.
When all is said and done, all the research is helpful, but looking inside is just as important as all the external information. It is important to ask yourself if online learning is right for you.
Think seriously about what you know about yourself: are you a procrastinator or a self-starter? Do you need to be micro-managed or do you like to work independently? Do you need socialization as part of the learning experience or do you prefer to study alone? Can you learn outside of a classroom or do you need a distraction-free environment?