Below youâ€™ll find the top 10 online degree programs for a large variety of accredited degrees. Use the “More Information” links below to request free information and financial aid packages from the schools that interest you.
Essentials of Online Degree Programs
An old adage states that there’s nothing new under the sun. To some degree, this holds true for distance education. Students have been learning via correspondence school at least since Colonial America. As early as 1728, the Boston Gazette ran advertisements for shorthand education via the mail, advising that “any Persons in the Country” could learn the art of shorthand through the mail and “be as perfectly instructed as those that live in Boston.”
WHAT CAN BE EARNED THROUGH AN ONLINE DEGREE PROGRAM?
Of course, we have come a long way from just learning shorthand via the mail. Nowadays, hundreds of degrees can be earned through online education. These include degrees at all levels, including the GED, vocational degrees, undergraduate degrees, master’s degrees, and doctorates. Therefore, regardless of where a student lives, he or she could earn a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish, follow this with a Bachelor of Arts in Business, and then earn an MBA in International Business with a concentration in technology. Ten years later, the individual might further enhance their job competitiveness with an Executive MBA in Organizational Leadership.
A limited sampling of degree subject areas includes:
- Chemical engineering
- Computer Science
- Software Engineering
Non-degree certificate programs have also proliferated. In some cases, people choose non-degree programs because they require less of an investment but can still support career advancement. In other cases, people choose non-degree programs simply to enhance their lives with a new skill or hobby. Examples of non-degree certificates include boating safety, calligraphy, and interior decorating. All of the degree subject areas listed above can also be studied in less depth for a non-degree certificate.
WHO OFFERS ONLINE EDUCATION PROGRAMS?
Online education is widespread. The Sloan Company has reported than in 2005, 3.2 million students were enrolled online in the United States. This represented an increase of 800,000 over the previous year.
Online courses are offered by large universities, smaller universities, and two-year community colleges. They are offered by non-profit and for-profit schools. According to a study of 2200 higher learning institutions in the United States, 96% of the largest universities (those with enrolments of 15,000 students or more) offered at least some courses online in 2005. These are generally public universities. However, the largest school in the U.S., the private University of Phoenix, enrolls more than 300,000 students annually in a combination of online and on-campus schools.
Read on to learn about accreditation. By choosing an accredited school, you can be assured that your money is spent on a valuable degree.
WHAT ARE THE STEPS TO EARNING A DEGREE ONLINE?
FIRST, CHOOSE A PROGRAM CAREFULLY.
When people realize the availability of online education, they often feel motivated to start learning right away. However, it’s important to choose a program carefully. Keep the following criteria in mind.
Is the school accredited?
Beware of “diploma mills.” These are companies that exist solely for profit; they do not grant degrees that are actually meaningful in the workplace or to other educational institutions.
It’s relatively easy to avoid enrolling in a substandard program. In the United States, institutions of higher education are overseen by one of six regional organizations. These organizations evaluate the worth of schools and the degrees that they grant. If a school is reliable, then it will advertise that it’s “accredited” by one of the six organizations. These include:
Be sure to verify that the school you’re interested in is accredited by one of the above groups or by the Distance Education and Training Council. Credits from an accredited degree program will be more respected by employers and may also be transferable toward degrees at other accredited schools.
Does the program meet my needs?
There is much variation among accredited programs. Here are some differences to consider when comparing online programs:
- Prerequisites. Some programs require certain background knowledge. For example, to succeed in a certain engineering class, you might need three semesters of experience with calculus. To enroll in a specialty area of dentistry, you will need a general dentistry degree first.
Online program descriptions are usually very clear about what sort of students the degree is designed for. They generally state their prerequisites and specify whether traditional students or experiences working professionals are being addressed.
- Time. A great advantage of online programs is that they can fit anybody’s schedule. Some programs allow students to take just one class at a time, and each class might only last for six weeks. Other programs require taking multiple classes simultaneously for full-time study.
Degree programs also differ in their overall length. For example:
You will also find variations in delivery that affect your schedule. That is, some programs will require online interaction with the professor or will only broadcast a lecture at a particular time. Therefore, you’ll need to log on at a set time. Other programs will permit you to download a lecture and watch it at your convenience.
- Expense. The cost of online education varies widely. If cost is a concern, keep in mind that students at accredited online schools are now eligible for federal aid. Many types of scholarships may also be available through the school’s endowment. Military personnel and their spouses often receive substantial discounts.
Of course, education should be considered an investment; the money that you put in will ideally be returned. Compared with a high school diploma, a college diploma opens many doors to employment and job advancement. A person with a Master’s degree earns an average of $200 more per week than someone with a Bachelor’s degree. Lawyers who specialize in one area of law may command higher hourly rates than those who have not studied one aspect of law in-depth.
By learning online instead of on a traditional campus, students also avoid school-related expenses such as fuel, car maintenance, child care, appropriate clothing, and on-campus meals.
- Prestige. Some people want a degree from a well-known Ivy League university. Others are only concerned with acquiring knowledge and an accredited degree. In any case, you’ll want your degree to be respected in ways that affect your own life. If you’re pursuing an online degree for job advancement, then talk with your employer about online degrees that he or she would value. If you’re hoping to transfer online credits to another institution, then consult with that institution before investing in the online classes.
You can learn about the general reputation of a school by reading rankings that are published by magazines such as U.S. News & World Report. You might also consider the school’s acceptance rate. If 98% of students are accepted, for example, then the school is not very elite.
- Learning style. People have different learning styles, and you’ll want to keep this in mind as you choose an online degree program. Instructors in traditional schools have different teaching styles, and the same holds true for instructors online. Some professors will rely exclusively upon audio lectures delivered on MP3 files. Others will use Blackboard technology that lets you watch as they graph data or write equations.
Some students learn best when they interact with the professor and other students. They might benefit from online discussion forums or video chat. Other people would rather not invest time in such interaction; they prefer to learn more independently.
Also consider the program’s main evaluation methods. For example, some students prefer oral exams. Others would rather submit test answers in a written essay format or answer multiple choice questions online.
- Support. Schools offer a variety of benefits to their students. Some institutions offer perks such as: academic advising; writing assistance; library access; tutoring; and assistance finding internships and employment.
Second, apply to online schools.
How many schools should you apply to? The answer to this question depends upon your situation. Generally, students are advised to apply to five schools. These would include two schools that will almost definitely accept them, two schools that will probably accept them, and one that is more of a reach. Students might apply to more schools or fewer schools depending on how much time they have to spend on completing applications and how much money they can spend on application fees.
Once you’ve identified one or more programs that fit your online learning needs, you will need to complete their applications. If a program is not very competitive, then this may involve little time and effort. Your biggest decision may be whether to submit your application online or through the post. Of course, applying online is the best option! You’ll want to show the admissions committee that you are comfortable with computer technology.
Some online programs have application processes that are identical to or very similar to traditional university applications. That is, they involve writing essays, providing letters of recommendation, and perhaps completing a phone interview.
If you are required to submit an essay, then allow yourself plenty of time to consider the question. You might want to keep the question in the back of your mind for several days before writing a response. Then, after you’ve written your answer, set it aside for a day. Your answer might seem different after you’ve stepped away from it for awhile. Of course, make your essay and the entire application as error-free as possible. Use the automatic spell-checker on your word processing program, and remember that computers don’t catch every mistake. Ask another person to review your essay and application before submission.
When will your application be due? Many programs accept applications year-round. Others have specific time windows for application submission. Also, some online programs have open enrollment. That is, they allow students to begin their coursework at any time. Others are more similar to traditional universities and have defined semesters or quarters.
After you submit your application, the school should send confirmation that they have received your form. Allow the school some time to review the application. However, if you don’t receive confirmation within a few days of submitting your application, then call the admissions office to verify that your form was received.
You also may be required to mail transcripts and an application fee. If you neglect to send in all of the required materials, then the school might not even look at your application.
Third, Take your online courses.
Online schooling experiences vary. With advancements in internet speed and other technologies, schools have developed many different ways to deliver information. Common methods include:
- Print. Students acquire information by reading physical textbooks or accessing e-texts.
- Video. Students download streaming video, log on to view a live lecture, view a course on public television, or receive a video lecture in the mail.
- Audio. Students listen to streaming audio, download MP3s, or receive audio tapes in the mail.
Interact with your professors and classmates.
Online asynchronous (not live) interaction methods may include email, listservs, or forums with threaded discussions.
Synchronous interaction may include text chat, videoconferencing, or talking on the telephone.
Show what you know.
Schools also have devised different ways to evaluate students. Students might take online tests, interact with their professor for an oral exam, or submit a paper. Some programs require students to complete a comprehensive project.
Fourth, earn your degree and move ahead!