A Step-By-Step Guide to Choosing an Online Degree

At one time, online colleges were rarely available – and when they were, the programs couldn’t hold a candle to traditional schools. Today, you can get an online degree in anything from business to history to nursing, and virtual programs provide you with a quality education.

How Do I Choose an Online College?

Once you’ve decided online college is the right path for you, there’s yet another important decision you will have to make: which school to attend. With hundreds of schools across the United States offering online degree programs, the number of options is nothing short of overwhelming. Students have several options for narrowing down their school choices.

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1. Researching your universities

There are many assumptions about choosing an online degree program, but making a wrong assumption could derail your educational plans. Before committing to a school, do your homework. Going to school online often saves students money, but at some schools, the cost is equal to or more than the cost of a traditional degree.

2. How long has the online college been around?

Many online degree programs are offered by colleges and universities that have been around many decades, and in many cases, founded over a century ago. When you earn your degree online from a school with an established reputation, your degree has proven value.

3. Accreditations and rankings

Think of accreditation as an insurance policy that protects the value of your education. The U.S. Department of Education says it best: “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.”

4. Flexibility and customization

To keep up with the changing professional landscape, educators have created customized programs within in-demand industries. Many schools offer tracks or concentrations where you can choose courses to customize your degree to fit your professional interests and goals.

5.Take a demo online course

Completing a demo online course allows you to familiarize yourself with the technology used. Some schools boast the state-of-the-art technology, with all the latest bells and whistles, but technology is not a substitute for education. Making sure that you will be receiving quality, helpful information in your courses will help you choose an appropriate school.

Online-Only Doesn't Automatically Mean Lower Quality

Students should weigh many factors – faculty, reputation, availability of student services, cost and course structure, to name a few – when choosing a program rather than jumping to conclusions, experts say.Despite not having access to in-person resources, online students may find other advantages to choosing a school that only focuses on them."They're not trying to please everybody," says Derit Watson, a current online bachelor's student. "They're just really devoted to that genre."

How to Avoid Online College Scams

Beware of “diploma mills,” which award illegitimate degrees to students on the internet. Among the most important steps a prospective student can take is to ensure an online degree program is accredited by an organization recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. This information is typically listed on a school or program’s website and can affect how an online degree is perceived by employers as well as other colleges and universities, should a student decide to transfer. See the Online College Accreditation section below for more information.