Picking an online college is like picking a pair of shoes… a pair that fits your friend perfectly may pinch your toes. The goal is to find the college that’s right for you. You will be spending a lot of time and money on your education, so it pays to do your research. Here are a few tips and questions to ask to help you find a college you are comfortable with.
Is the college accredited?
Accreditation means the college has met and maintains certain academic and administrative standards. There are some questionable organizations out there. This U.S. Department of Education website (www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/index.html) gives an overview of accreditation, and list organizations recognized by the Secretary of Education. They also maintain a database of accredited colleges.
Most major colleges have regional accreditation. A list of regional accreditation agencies can be found at www.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg7.html
Don’t assume a college is bad because you haven’t heard of it, or that it is good because you have heard of it.
Some colleges with large on-campus student bodies do not put much effort into their on-line programs. Often they offer a limited number of classes and majors. On the other hand, there are smaller schools who offer a wide range of programs and put a lot of time and effort into their on-line offerings.
Are all of the materials I need on-line? Will I need to buy books? Can I find books on my own, or do I have to buy them from the school?
Who do I contact if I need help?
How soon will instructors get back to me? Are there IT people available if I have technical difficulties? Who do I contact if I’m having a problem with an instructor? Are tutors available if i need academic help?
Are there certain times I need to be on-line?
Some classes may allow you to do the work whenever you are available. Some may require that you are on-line at specific times to interact with the instructor or fellow students.
How will I take my tests?
Some colleges may require that you set up a proctor.
Will I be able to contact my fellow students?
Being able to interact with other students is an important part of the learning process. Most on-line classes should have a message board or chat room or the ability to email other students.
Can the whole degree be completed on-line?
Are all of the classes available on-line? Will I ever have to come to campus? Some programs may require you to come to campus for an orientation.
Will my transcript or diploma say I took on-line classes?
There are still a small few (and getting smaller all the time) who don’t believe on-line classes are on par with on campus classes. There is no reason your transcript or diploma need to reflect that you completed your degree on-line.
With a little work you can find an on-line college that will provide you with a positive educational experience. Good luck with your studies!