Choosing an online program can be difficult. Online education is very popular right now, which means that there are a lot of options available to choose from. So, how do you choose the best program when there are so many out there?
1- Know what your goals are
While it seems obvious, it’s important to know what you are hoping to get out of the program you are choosing before contacting schools that you are interested in. Do you eventually want to go on and earn another degree? Are you hoping to be licensed in your field? Do you want to change fields?
Knowing what you want can help you narrow down your choices and make sure that you are picking the right program for your needs. A lot of students start their search for a program without really knowing what they want out of it and then become discouraged when they don’t find a good fit. Know what you want before you start your search and you’ll be more likely to find a program that fits your needs.
2- Start Searching
There are thousands of online degree options to choose from and it can be hard to find the best program. A good place to start is with in-state university or community colleges to see if the degree you want is available there. While fees are becoming more competitive among online schools, sometimes local universities and community colleges are still the cheapest option. If a local school does not have an online option for the degree you are searching for, you can ask if they have any recommendations or if they know of any schools that do offer the program you’re looking for.
Another option is to search any of the “Best of” lists available. Do a quick Google search for the “Best online ____ degree” and you’ll be sure to find rankings. It’s important to know that some schools pay to be featured in these “Best of” lists so make sure that you’re looking at a reputable source. Ranking sites like USA Today and the Princeton Review are good places to start.
Asking friends and family for their recommendations can also be a good place to start. Do you have a family member who attended school online and loved it? Ask where they went to school. They may be able to offer some recommendations.
Informational interviews with people who are in a position you want to be in can also provide some insight into what schools to look at and, possibly, which accreditation(s) to look for. If your field requires licensure, this is especially useful. Making sure that the program you choose will get you where you want to go is extremely important. Plus, getting to know a professional in your field can offer a valuable mentorship relationship. Most professionals are open to helping others, you just have to be willing to ask for it.
3- Check Accreditation
Making sure that the online school you are looking at is accredited is extremely important. Be sure to determine whether a school is regionally or nationally accredited before attending. Both types of accreditation are fine, depending on what your goals are. Regional accreditation is considered more rigorous and many schools will only accept credits from regionally accredited institutions. As mentioned above, make sure you know what your goals are to ensure that you don’t end up earning a degree that will hinder your future goals.
If you are hoping to gain licensure after your degree, make sure you know what your state boards require regarding accreditation. Check with your individual state board to determine the specific accreditation that is required for your field. For example, social work boards typically require accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and engineering boards typically require accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). If you don’t have a degree from an accredited institution, typically, you will be unable to gain professional licensure.
4- Ask for Help
It’s okay to ask for help when you need it! While representatives from online schools are trying to recruit you when you call or email them, and you should keep this in mind when speaking with them, it’s okay to ask for help if you are confused or need assistance. Never feel uncomfortable asking for help understanding. It’s better to make sure you fully understand the program you are entering and what will be expected of you before you start classes and find that it isn’t a good fit.
You can, and should, ask for help from family members, coworkers, friends and colleagues who have experience with online education too. Remember, everyone was a beginner at some point! Ask them for things they wish they’d know when they were looking at schools so that you’re able to ask better questions when you speak to a representative.
5- Review Tuition and Fees
Make sure you have a full understanding of the tuition and fees that you will be charged before making a final decision. Sometimes a tuition rate will appear to be very low, but then the school will charge online access fees, out of state tuition, or other special fees, making the costs much higher. Before you get in a financial bind, make sure you know what you’re paying for!