What to Look for When Picking an Online College?

Once you’ve decided you want to earn your degree online, it’s time to pick a college. A quick Internet search will give you a ton of online college results, but you’ll want some criteria to help you decide on the online college that works for you. Take a look at this handy guide that offers some key points to consider before you make your decision.

1. Experience
Online learning is still an emerging medium, and you don’t want to trust your education in a college that’s still experimenting with online programs. Look for an online college with a well-known brand, years of experience administering online programs, and a reputation for investing in the top technologies and methods for online instruction. Also visit the college ‘About Us’ section to learn how many years of experience in online education it has as well as the number of degrees it has awarded.

2. Accreditation
Whether you’re enrolling in an on-campus or online college, you’ll want to make sure that a college is accredited. In general, degrees from accredited colleges are more widely accepted by employers. This is particularly important when choosing an online degree because it’s relatively easy for low quality colleges to start up. Accredited colleges generally display their accreditation information in their ‘About Us’ section.

3. Flexibility & Convenience
Flexibility is one of the primary benefits of online education, and you can look for a college that offers asynchronous learning, which means you can log in to class on your own schedule rather than at set times. This might include participating in discussions that span a few days instead of real time, scheduling exam times that fit your calendar, or watching video lecture materials at your own pace. If you have a busy schedule, make sure to ask about flexibility options when you speak to a college enrollment advisor.

4. New Student Orientation
Learning online is different than face-to-face learning, and it’s important to choose a college that supports students as they transition to online learning. Many top colleges have personal enrollment advisors that will support you throughout the enrollment process. Also, look for colleges that offer trial periods or sample mini-courses for free so that you can try out online learning at a college without committing.

5. Program Diversity
One of the big benefits of online colleges is that they offer a wide variety of programs. Program diversity allows you to take a variety of electives and to seamlessly switch majors if your interests or goals change. Another option you might consider is looking for colleges that offer programs all the way from the associate’s degree level to the doctoral level. By choosing a college with strong program diversity, you can stick with it throughout your career as a student rather than spending time selecting and transitioning to a new college.

6. Program & Class Availability
In addition to offering a wide array of programs, top colleges have enough program availability that qualified students don’t have trouble getting spots in programs and classes. You don’t want a lack of access to classes to delay your roadmap to graduation. The best way to determine program availability is to fill out a request for information and then speak directly with an enrollment advisor.

7. Career Services
Many online degree programs are career-focused programs, and you’ll want to look for colleges that can support you in finding a job after graduation. Also, consider finding colleges that offer career services for both current and graduated students. Colleges with large alumni networks can provide additional opportunities for career networking both online and in your area.

8. Student Support
When you’re learning from home, you need easy access to support services. It’s critical to look for colleges with technical support teams to help you with computer problems as well as academic support teams to help you plan your degree program and select courses. If you work or have a busy schedule, look for colleges with 24/7 services so that support (particularly technical support) is available when you need it. Colleges that offer a lot of online programs and have a large number of alumni tend to have more comprehensive support options because they have more resources.

9. Learning Environment
A well-designed learning environment can make the difference between an enjoyable and frustrating online course. Top colleges have online classrooms that are easy to use and navigate, even if you’re not a computer expert. Their classroom technologies allow you to interact with your classmates and instructor intuitively and provide a personal feel to the online environment. Look for colleges with mobile access to the online classroom, especially if you have a smartphone. Also, check to see if the technical requirements (such as computer type) match what you have at home. Most top colleges offer a learning environment that can be accessed from the most common platforms.

10. Online Resources
Many colleges offer online classes or degrees, but most of their student services are only available on campus. Look for colleges that have resources that are available online, including a library and career services. Additional resources that can enhance your experience include online lecture series from industry leaders, virtual experiences of hands-on fields, and online access to professional software. Online resources can vary by program, so speaking to an enrollment advisor is the best way to find out about resources for your degree program.

Benefits of Online Colleges
Online colleges offer a range of benefits you won’t find on a traditional campus:

  • Assignments can be completed flexibly within a set time frame, making it easier to complete classes and rendering it ideal for people who need to balance life and work with their education.
  • Some online colleges are cheaper; without the need to maintain a physical location, some online colleges can offer discounted tuition and fees.
  • Online programs don’t just teach math or English, they teach self-motivation and discipline, too!
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