Just like attending a traditional college or university, the decision to enroll in an online degree program is only the first step in a long but rewarding process. Now comes the tricky part: Which school should you attend? How do you separate the good from the bad, the legitimate online schools from the cheap diploma mills? What’s next?
First things first: Decide what you want to study. Online degree programs offer a growing variety of educational tracks, and you’ll need to figure out which degree you want to pursue as well as the school you want to attend. U.S. News & World Report maintains a searchable index of distance learning opportunities that allows you to research schools based on your chosen area of study, whether it’s business administration, education, or one of many more. Spend some time browsing the database and performing additional web searches to narrow down the field into a list of possible degree programs.
Next, research the schools you’re interested in. Be sure to consider variables like tuition, ancillary cost, and the reputation the school has received from past students and from third-party investigators. Check with the Better Business Bureau to see if the school has been the subject of user complaints. This is also the stage when you’ll need to check the accreditation of the online degree programs you’re considering. The U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation will help you verify the online degree program’s reputation and determine if it’s a less than reputable degree mill or a competent and worthwhile educational institution.
Finally, ask yourself if the degree program is right for you. Are the classes structured in a way that lets you maintain a job while also completing coursework? Bear in mind that some online colleges or universities require you to log in and attend class at a set time each week, while others let you schedule the attendance times. Do you meet, or are you able to, the technical hardware requirements for attending class online? Additionally, the amount of time required to successfully complete an online degree program varies from one school to another, even if the major is the same, so you’ll need to compare the time commitment across schools to determine which one best suits your needs. Finding the best online degree program for you is closer than you think.