Beware when Pursuing an Online Degree
What to look for and Is Online Education what you Want?
By Claudine Vainrub, MBA and Principal of EduPlan
Many adult learners who want to go back to school today consider online college programs. I know I did a few months back, as it was for me the only alternative to achieve a certification I longed for. I registered at UCLA Extension and for a year, learned in an online environment, and achieved my degree with High Distinction. Sounds easy? It was nothing of that sort. My online program entailed long hours reading in front of my computer, lots of assignments, more class participation than if I would have been attending a class on-campus. The full certification took a year to complete, including an internship at a school in my city. A few years ago, this type of education was not even an option. Now, it is sometimes the only option we have to pursue our studies.
Unlike ten years back when online courses were few, we now have thousands of online colleges to choose from. The proliferation of the Internet and the new technologies of Web 2.0 that enable high speeds and interactivity have propelled this trend. Moreover geographical considerations are not a constraint in choosing an online college, so you can virtually choose a college that suits your needs from any part of the world. “Over twenty percent of all U.S. higher education students were taking at least one online course in the fall of 2007”, states Staying the Course, an illuminating survey undertaken by I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman for the Sloan Consortium.
A major advantage of studying online is the flexibility it offers. This is the number one reason people choose to study online, according to a poll by Claria Corporation, a behavioral marketing firm, quoted in onlinedegreezone.com. However not all online colleges meet the required norms. Here are some guidelines on how to proceed when evaluating online programs:
– Conduct a thorough research, shortlist a few-at least four or five- colleges that meet your needs and request information from all of them. Do not hesitate to ask questions, when something is not clear to you.
– Make sure that the online college you join has accreditation from a proper source. This ensures that the institution meets the educational quality standards. Many online degree mills claim they are accredited, but the agency that accredits them does not have legitimacy. They grant accreditation to anyone who can pay them for it. Therefore consider only those colleges accredited by accreditation agencies approved by the US Department of Education. To research accredited degree programs and legitimate accreditation agencies, visit the website of the US Department of Education: http://www.ed.gov/index.jhtml
– A college/university serious about online courses will develop considerable time and resources to develop courses that suit an e-learning mode and also engage in continuous research to better their teaching methods. Inquire what initiatives of this kind are pursued by the college/university that interests you.
– Before you start researching online colleges, it would help to make up your mind about what kind of major you intend to pursue. Some online schools offer two-year, associate level courses. If you are merely looking to upgrade your skills or learn something new, this should be good enough for you. Other online schools offer four-year degrees (BA or BS). This is desirable if a degree can help you move ahead in your career. Also look into what options are available between choosing between private and public institutions and for-profit and non-profit colleges.
– Find out if the online school and program will grant you college credit if you seek to transfer to a non-virtual accredited college or university. For instance, if you join an online associate program now, find out what are the chances that you will have to continue your education and pursue a bachelor’s degree later with another college/ university in a virtual or a classroom environment. Inquire within a few accredited higher education institutions by providing the name and basic data of the online school you are considering to enter.
– Check out the size of the classes, and the student-teacher ratio. Colleges with fewer students per teacher are likely to say so. This is important for you to get personalized attention and mentoring from your teachers/professors.
– The track record of the teachers is also important. If several of the faculties’ qualifications come from the same college he/she works with, it does not bode well for the credentials of the college and the faculty, warns college-scholarships.com.
– Financial aid options need to be considered before you finalize on a course. Similar to a classroom programs, colleges might offer loans, scholarships and installment options for fee payment.
– Find out how easy or hard it will be to contact faculty and support staff at the college where you enroll to achieve your online degree. Inquire on whether the entire course can be completed online or if it will require for you to travel to the college location to complete any part of the coursework. This is an important point that might prevent you from earning the degree you have worked so hard at.
So, if you are ready to embark on the adventure of online education, get prepared to work very hard, read a lot, and put as many hours or more than you would in an On- Campus environment. By being informed on online schools, what they offer and which are reputable and accredited, we can take advantage of an amazing education technology that will surely keep growing in the near future. Was it worth it to me, to spend every day of the week for a year hours in front of the computer, responding to classmates in an online environment, reading endlessly and completing numerous assignments? You bet!
Find out the most recent information on Online University options on the U.S. News site…