Choosing the Right Online College
In today’s educational arena, students have a veritable buffet of menu options when deciding what college is right for them. Those choices are influenced by finances, work schedules, family responsibilities for adult students, and career plans, to name just a few of the things that weigh in on the decision process. Students lead busy lives and trying to find time to take the classes they need can be a challenge in a schedule that needs to accommodate competing priorities. Harry Potter fans know that the standout student at Hogwarts, Hermione Granger, wanted to get the most out of her education. With the aid of Professor Dumbledore, she made use of something called a Time-Turner, which allowed her to take a class, then turn back the clock and take a different class in the same time slot. Lacking access to Hermione’s Hour Reversal Charm, today’s students are required to figure out how to capitalize on their time in order to get the most out of their college education. For many students, enrolling in a traditional brick-and-mortar college requires a greater sacrifice rather than an opportunity. That’s why choosing the right online college has become an increasingly attraction option for the next generation of graduates.
According to U.S. News and World Report, the numbers for students choosing an online college have risen dramatically during this decade; in fact, from 2012-2016, the total number of students who were actually studying entirely on a physical campus decreased by 6.4 percent, or more than one million students. The rates are only expected to increase in the future, as more and more students weigh the costs of college against the benefits they except to reap from obtaining a degree. As they consider their options, an online college that accommodates their incomes, expenses, schedules, and prospects for the future has become an increasingly more enticing option for higher education.
Students are already finding online courses to their liking. The Babson Survey Research Group studied federal data from over 4,700 colleges and universities and discovered that more than 6.3 percent of students took at least one online course in the fall of 2016. That number represents a 5.6 increase from 2015, making 2016 the 14th consecutive year showing an uptick in online college enrollment.
A study by the University of California, Los Angeles confirms that when it comes to choosing a college, today’s savvy students are following the money: is the college affordable, and will the degree lead to a career? UCLA’s survey of nearly 200,000 freshmen students revealed that the schools’ reputation ranked first; second was whether the degree from the college would lead to a good job.
But how can a student make the right decision when choosing an online college? What are the criteria that provide guidance for this important choice? Here’s a checklist of questions that students can ask when exploring their online college options.
Consider Only Accredited Online Colleges
The U.S. Department of Education states that the goal of accreditation “is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher learning meets acceptable levels of quality.” You can find out whether a college is accredited by going to the Dept. of Education’s database at https://ope.ed.gov/dapip/#/home
The Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs contains the information that recognized accrediting agencies and state approval agencies have reported to the Dept. of Education. While the information submitted is not audited, it’s a good starting point for learning more about an online college’s legitimacy.
Check on How Well Established the Colleges Are
In order to choose the right online college, a student needs to make sure the college is “of age” in terms of its educational reputation. If a school has been around for awhile and has built up a reputation for providing a quality education, that’s great. If a school has a brief pedigree, do some investigating to find out more about their partnerships with other institutions, with alumni, and with employers. Asking the right questions can reveal a lot about an online college’s educational credibility.
Determine Which Colleges Accept the Most Transfer Credits
It’s okay, in terms of other educational efforts, if you have a past. You might have taken courses at other institutions. Lots of students transfer from one school to a different one that’s more in line with their choice of degree. Are those credits going to be accepted at your online college? You’re looking for a direct route from classroom to degree to career, and being able to transfer credits helps streamline that path while keeping educational costs lower.
Determine Which Degrees Will Enhance your Career Advancement
How have other students fared upon graduation? By verifying the rates of student employment and placement, you can confirm that the money you’re spending now is going to lead to the paycheck you expect later. Before you decide whether to enroll, ask for a degree plan that will show you that the courses in the degree program are relevant for your post-graduation plans. The college that you choose is the one that will launch you from student to employee without any unexpected detours along the way.
Be Sure You Know the Actual Costs of Your Degree Program
Choosing the right online college means investigating whether you’re paying extra for things like lab fees or technology access. Channel your inner Sherlock Holmes to find out if the college is trying to keep costs hidden. A reputable online college will be up front about these charges. If there’s too much fine print in the cost outline, you’re wise to ask questions before you commit.
Are the Colleges You are Considering Financially Sound?
Knowing the financial credibility of the school you’re going to enroll in is all part of the vetting process. Before you give your money to their coffers, make sure that they are firmly established with a solid financial foundation. Ask questions. A school that has nothing to hide will be able to answer you. A school that is in financial peril may not want to tell the truth to prospective students (and their tuition dollars), but you’re looking for a school that’s going to stay in business while you’re pursuing your degree.
Focus on Graduation Rates
Choosing the right online college can save you money in the long run by making it possible for you to graduate in four years or, if you’re permitted to set your own schedule, in three years. The savings will be significant: for every extra year of study at a four-year public college, a student can pay $22,826. That’s incentive for graduating on time or early; just think what you could do with that $22,826 that you’re saving!
Is there Adequate Academic Support?
Being an online student means that you’ll depend upon reliable technology in order to fulfill your class assignments. But technology, as we all know, has its quirks. We love our technology, but some times, our technology doesn’t love us back. Does your online college’s degree program have a variety of ways—email, phone, chat—to resolve technology issues? Are there online tutoring programs available? Do online students receive equal access to the college’s career service opportunities? Being an online student at the right online college recognizes that you’re not second-class and you should receive the same support that on-campus students expect.
Consider Your Student Loan Repayment Options and Costs
In terms of paying for college, it ain’t over when it’s over. Don’t forget that, when calculating the cost of your degree, you need to factor in the amount of debt that you’ll have to repay after graduation. The best way to lower your debt burden is to choose an online college that charges lower costs for tuition. Scholarships and tuition discounts can help you meet the cost of your tuition. Student debt may be a 21st century fact of life for graduates, but there are steps that you can take to make repayment less painful.
Calculate Return on Investment
You want to graduate with a degree that will make you a top competitor in the job market. Choosing the right online college means that you are taking classes that reflect today’s workplace standards. Are your textbooks current? Can your lab courses be taken at home and online? An online degree program should offer an education that reflects the money and effort you’ve put into your studies.
A busy, tech-centric world is raising students who don’t want to be limited when choosing the educational format that suits their income and lifestyle. The forecast is bright. Imagine being able to marry, raise kids, maintain a household, work full time, travel—and pursue a college education. Choosing the right online college is the first step in redefining your schedule. Maybe Hermione’s Time-Turner is going to be possible after all!