Whether you’re a high school, college, or international student wishing to pursue a degree online, finding the right online program and school can seem intimidating, especially if you’ve never taken online classes before. However, advanced technology has provided a means for conveniently acquiring a quality college education via the web, while allowing students to attend to personal obligations and keep their jobs. The most important step to finding the best college is to spend the time to do your research and exhaust your available resources. To ease your way into finding the perfect program for your career goals, you’ll want to do the following:
To find the best online college, you may need to do extensive research like checking out a ranking of top online colleges. Another important step is deciding on a major (or at least a few to choose & narrow down from), and whether you plan on pursuing an associate or bachelor’s degree in your desired field. A two-year associate degree from a community college is a great start for students still determining which career path they want to take, and wishing to get their elective and general education classes out of the way for affordable tuition.
Generally speaking, those wishing to advance into higher-level positions will benefit from pursuing a bachelor’s degree, as many graduates often eventually take on managerial and supervisory roles. The bachelor’s degree program usually takes four years of full-time study to complete, and tuition fees may be higher at universities than at community colleges.
Accreditation is extremely crucial because it indicates that colleges have met the requirements of an independent higher education agency endorsed by the United States Department of Education. An accredited school is responsible for delivering the most up-to-date training and knowledge in its classes, via respected professors. In short, it’s a way to ensure that the time and money you invest on your education is worth it.
Every school has its pros and cons, and may specialize in certain fields and majors. Don’t be afraid to use your resources online, such as speaking with a counselor about your strengths, interests, desired career path(s), and the classes you’ll have to take to get there. It’s a great sign if a school has good online support for their students!
Reputation is not important to every student, but it’s worth considering, especially if you do prioritize prestige when it comes to an online education. The Internet is your best friend when it comes to finding what other past students or even employers have said about a specific school or program. Another promising resource for getting a good idea of what a school’s reputation is like is the U.S. News and World Report, as they provide updated rankings of the best colleges and universities in the nation.
This type of information may be available directly at the school’s faculty website pages, or external professor review sites comprised of honest reviews from past students in a particular class. The more well-researched you are before jumping into online learning, the smoother and better your education will be!
Tuition can get costly, so it’s essential to know where your college stands. It’s a great idea to see if they offer any financial assistance for your financial needs. Financial aid packages often vary depending on student needs and specific schools. The first step to determining what type of aid you qualify for is to fill out and submit the FAFSA form. Then, you’ll want to decide if you need to take out student loans (and if so, how much?) or if you can pay tuition costs out of pocket.
Every school will have different requirements for graduation. In addition to completing coursework, students may be required to take on an internship, clinical rotation, or practicum, depending on the academic discipline and level of study.
You could be attending the best online college and still have a hard time keeping up if you don’t have the motivation or drive to do well. Reliable Internet connection, great time management and organizational skills, and the ability to work well independently with little to no hand-holding are all critical must-haves when it comes to distance learning.
Another important, but often overlooked aspect to choosing the perfect online degree program is the location. Online degree programs are designed in a way to allow students to learn course material remotely from wherever works best for them, but sometimes having face-to-face interaction with a professor can be extremely helpful. If you feel that you may want to visit your instructors during office hours, go to the school library, or attend tutoring on-campus, it will be wise to pick a college that is relatively close to where you will be studying out of most frequently. Some other factors worth considering are:
Convenient campus access is an advantage because while most courses will be taken online, some more hands-on subjects may require students to occasionally attend certain online lectures or discussions at scheduled times. An example could be a chemistry class requiring students to complete lab experiments throughout the course to demonstrate understanding of the book material learned online. Choosing a college too far from where you live or plan to study out of may make it difficult for you to complete such classes.
Keep in mind that while online classes are generally much more affordable than on-campus learning due to minimized costs such as commute time, parking and gas fees, and expenses of learning materials, the exact tuition will still vary depending on location. For example, enrolling in an online college in California may be pricier than earning a degree in North Dakota, due to California’s bigger state population, desirability, and overall higher demand when it comes to education. Some out-of-state schools may also charge higher tuition rates for students who aren’t residents of the state the college is in.
Every state has different employment requirements, so picking a college in the state in which you plan on working after graduation can help keep things simpler. If you are already familiar with your desired career path, it may be smart to do some research, talk with those in your network, and look for guidance from professionals to learn more about hiring preferences & the outlook for jobs in the future. Doing this will help you pick the right program that meets the needs of your field’s employers.
Credits from accredited colleges or universities will often transfer between similarly accredited degree programs, whether they were earned online or in the traditional classroom setting. With this in mind, if you’ve already taken some classes from elsewhere, you will want to make sure they transfer over so you don’t have to repeat any classes. Again, different states and schools have different transfer policies. Save time and money by speaking to a counselor at your desired school to see if the credits to the classes you’ve already taken at a different school in the past will transfer over and apply toward program requirements. There’s nothing worse than having to start all over, especially if you’ve already completed most of the general education classes!
Once you have considered these important factors, it’s time to finally make the leap and apply to your top colleges!