Online colleges are everywhere, promoting themselves through television commercials, radio advertisements, highway billboards, online pop-up ads, spam emails, newspapers, and magazines. Their slick marketing campaigns promise to jumpstart your career and fulfill your dreams – all within the comfort of your own home.
Transforming the landscape of the college universe, online schools can offer students a cheaper, easier, and timely alternative to many traditional universities. Institutions such as the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University, American Intercontinental University, DeVry Univserity, Argosy University, South University, and Capella University are just a few of the countless online colleges that compete for the enrollment of millions of potential students seeking to receive an online education.
Just because schools have the words ‘University’ and ‘College’ within their titles doesn’t mean they’re officially accredited. Many use the term “accredited” loosely. Some are recognized by a small minority of organizations but are otherwise completely irrelevant and unrecognized.
Research which colleges are properly accredited and certified, and make sure they have the necessary programs and degrees that fit into your future plans.
Like colleges, degrees and diplomas aren’t created equal. A business degree from a local community college doesn’t have the same prestige as a business degree from Harvard. The same rules apply to online universities – some are simply better than others.
Before committing to a college, ask professionals in your prospective field which schools are highly regarded. Some businesses and corporate cultures prefer certain schools over others, and good collegiate reputations (such as “Ivy League” schools) give you an added career advantage after graduation.
For additional information, check websites such as ‘online-college-reviews.com’ and ‘bestcollegesonline.com’ that offer college reviews and provide personal testimonies from former students.
If possible, seek out alumni and ask their opinion of the school, and always make sure the college has a good job placement program.
* Expenses and Hidden Costs
Many online colleges promise the lowest tuition costs – but beware of hidden costs. Despite being publicized as “completely online”, some degrees require testing and training time that must happen within a physical classroom located at a place other than on a computer.
Medical degrees, counseling degrees, and various other programs that involve interpersonal communication require one-on-one instruction, internships, and hands-on experience that must be performed in a material environment.
For students who live far away from the facilities where this extra work will occur, traveling costs such as transportation, food, and lodging can cost hundreds – even thousands – of dollars.
Other expenses such as application fees, textbooks, technology fees, online services, and mailing expenses can quickly add up. Make sure you budget for a college you can afford, and always check for additional costs and hidden fees before enrolling.
Online colleges market themselves as an easy alternative for working adults and people who have hectic schedules. Unfortunately, many of the online courses still require specific deadlines. Web classroom sessions and online group work often have strict timelines and schedules.
Ensure that the courses can coincide with your schedule. Many online colleges are based in different countries and time zones, so take into consideration how this will influence your time management. Ask counselors about the flexibility (or lack thereof) of the classes, assignments, and programs that are offered.
Most general credits are usually more flexible to an individual’s routine, but as students progress throughout their program, classes become increasingly rigid and fixed – providing possible complications for those who have inflexible professional and parenting schedules.
* Career Compatibility
Before spending your money on an online degree, make certain that the college fits into your long-term goals and plans. For many professions, an online degree simply won’t suffice, and many students are left heartbroken upon learning that their degree is deemed useless to the companies and jobs they attempt to apply for.
Careful research and forethought is required before committing to an online college. Don’t be fooled. Although online colleges promise to put your educational and professional well-being as their top priority, in reality, many just want to run a successful business based on your tuition money.
* Practical Alternatives
While there are many online colleges to choose from, most traditional colleges also incorporate online courses and degrees into their programming. Since online schooling has become more popular, the prices between online colleges and “regular” colleges are very comparable – some traditional schools are even more affordable than online ones.
When searching for the perfect online program, don’t let the term ‘online’ restrict you to searching for just online universities. Instead, search every college that has a respected program in the field you are interested in studying, and investigate their online options – chances are they will have a online opportunity that will fulfill (and exceed) your expectations.