Online programs offer many flexible options for students who need an open schedule or who learn better in a less traditional environment. However, with so many options, it becomes even more important to choose a program carefully. Not all online degree programs are created alike. Earning a degree is a big commitment, and it is especially important to be sure that the program you choose is the right fit.
The most important criteria in choosing an online degree is accreditation. If the program is not accredited by a recognized board or agency, then your degree will have little value in the market place. Choosing an accredited program ensures that you will receive an education that conforms to universally accepted standards. Employers will also value a degree from an accredited institution over one from a school with no accreditation.
How are courses taught in the program? Of course, you know that they are taught online. But what methods are used? Do classes rely on video lectures, or are students responsible for reading and learning the material on their own? What materials are provided to support student learning (textbooks, forums, tutorials, etc.)? Be sure you understand the manner in which classes will be taught and what kind of support will be available. Also, understand how much contact you will have with the professor. Can you contact him by phone? E-mail? Ask these questions before you commit to a program to be sure that it suits your learning style.
Ask for course requirements for your desired degree program, and make sure you understand how that breaks down per term. How long is a term? How many classes will you be required to take each term? How long will the program take you to complete? The answers to these questions are very important. Even if you are attracted to a program because it can be finished in only a year, you may be shocked to learn that you have to take five classes each term – and that a term is only eight weeks. Be sure that the schedule and course commitment is one that suits your learning and career goals.
Some programs require hands-on experience, either at a partner university or through an internship. Typically, these requirements are for programs that teach trade skills, such as culinary programs, art, and design programs. Be sure to find out if your program has such a requirement and, if so, what options are available for fulfilling them in your area.
One of the most important factors in determining your online program may be the cost. Many online programs will actually cost more than a traditional campus-based program. However, scholarships and financial aid are available. You have to determine if the increased cost is worth the value of the more flexible schedule.
Choosing an online program requires careful consideration, as with any educational program. You are committing a large amount of your time and making a considerable financial investment. The choice you make will have a long-term impact on your future career. Make sure you consider these and other issues when choosing your program to make sure it is the right one for you.