You’ve done it. You decided to take the plunge into the world of online education. You’ve chosen your major and have a general idea of the career you want to pursue. But what school you plan on attending requires a whole other search that can seem daunting if you don’t know what you are looking for. Simply typing in “online schools” into a browser search will leave you more confused than when you first began.
Don’t make the mistake of assuming that all degree programs are alike. Online courses, as with traditional bricks-and-mortar schools, are varied and some might be more rigorous than others. As with all investments in education, it is essential to know the cost of courses, the average length of time it takes a student to complete the program, and how many credits are needed to graduate.
Find an Accredited Online School
Making sure that the school you plan on attending is accredited is perhaps one of the most overlooked essential tasks to complete when applying to online college. Accreditation ensures that the curriculum follows educational standards set by the National Educational Association (NEA). A useful list of all accredited schools is available on the NEA website.
Beware of “degree mill” scams, which establish their own accreditation organization that is not approved by the NEA in order to advertise that they are accredited on their website.
Read Online Course Descriptions
The course catalogue may be available online, but if not, you may contact the school to request a printed version. The course catalogue will explain the course objectives and goals, mandatory materials, time requirements, and level of difficulty. Understanding how the course operates will help you determine if it is something you are interested in and have the ability to complete in the allotted semester.
Talk to an Online College Admissions Counselor
Speaking to an admissions representative will help you determine the structure of each school’s online courses. Questions to ask the admissions counselor include:
- What is the student to instructor interaction consist of?
- Are students able to contact professors? If so, through what medium?
- What are the technology requirements for online courses?
- Is there technical support? If so, what are the hours, and how may they be contacted?
- What is the peer-to-peer interaction like?
- Does your school offer financial aid packages?
Check Out the Credit Transfer Requirements
Many students, especially those seeking a masters degree, begin their online education career with credits from a previous institution that they may wish to use towards earning their online degree. However, every school has different credit transfer criteria, so requesting an official transfer estimate from your prospective schools aid in your school selection process. As a rule, most schools accept between 30 to 50 percent of all transfer credits.
Is There A Dedicated Administrative Team?
This is so important to your online experience. You want to attend a school that cares about your educational experience and will do everything that they can to ensure your success. You need an administrative team that will promptly return your calls or Emails and send out needed forms and applications in a timely manner.
Find Out if You Can Earn Life Credits
It is becoming more common for schools to give out credits to adults who have work experience in their intended major. There is always a cap on how many life credits may be awarded that usually won’t exceed 25 percent. To get this process started, contact your guidance counselor who will be able to send you an application and provide you with possible portfolio requirements. Portfolio requirements include:
- Job description
- Samples of your work
- Detailed resumes
- References from co-workers or those familiar with your work
- Certificates or awards received
- Newspaper or magazine clippings
Research Average Online Class Size
Unlike most large colleges and universities whose lecture halls sometimes fill hundreds of seats, larger online schools that have enrollments of 10,000 online students or more tend to have smaller class sizes. This allots for greater individual attention and personal feedback. Feedback will also be presented in a timely manner.
Determine If The Online School has Synchronous or Asynchronous Classes
This distinction is important to the online learner because it refers to the time requirements of the course. Synchronous teaching is the method that all on-campus courses use, which means that students are taught in “real time”. In online school, this means they are required to “attend” class at a specific time either through online chat, video or audio. Asynchronous classes have no time requirements for when you need to read lectures or participate in discussions. This form of teaching relies on assignment and discussion deadlines to keep students up to pace and on track.
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.
Is There A Strong Online Alumni Network?
Taking the time to ensure that your prospective school has a strong alumni network can make a world of difference when you graduate. Alumni from your college should be the first place you look for a new job upon graduation because you share with them a common experience and thus they are more likely to relate to you and give you a chance (read job).
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