In the rapidly changing and constantly moving environments that prospective college students live in today, the option to get an education completely online is becoming more and more practical. This avenue provides a host of benefits, such as the ability to attend college while maintaining a full-time career, and can potentially reach a far greater share of learners than traditional on-campus courses have been able to in the past.
Fortunately for professionals and parents, along with the geographically challenged, an increasing number of institutions of higher education are implementing fully-online programs. In a sea of degree offerings, how can we determine which program will best serve our personal needs, as well as command sufficient respect from those would-be employers who will scan our résumés?
Ask yourself these questions as you narrow down your target schools:
Are they accredited?
Accreditation is a validation process that gives a school its status of legitimacy. Basically, it is a determination of whether or not a college is considered to be respectable. The process of becoming accredited involves the institution having to prove its program's worth to a peer review board, most often made up of representatives from other higher education institutions that are already accredited. Ensure that your target school meets the standards set by your region's designated accreditation agency by assuring the school's inclusion on the agency's list of accredited colleges.
Are they affordable?
While many schools waive out-of-state tuition fees for 100% online degrees, some do not. Tuition costs should be shopped just like any purchase: with good consumer sense. Weigh your investment in tuition costs against your projected return as a degree holder to determine whether your target school is worth the money.
Are they respected?
Above all, will a degree from this institution be worth your time, effort and expense? Whether or not a potential employer will regard a degree from your chosen institution as respectable has everything to do with the employer and the industry.
Consider the current environment of the trade you wish to pursue after school. Do professionals in your target industry typically hold bachelor's or master's degrees, or is the completion of a certificate program enough to get you in the door? Will a degree or certificate from an out-of-state college that not many people in your area are familiar with be sufficiently helpful in getting you a good job with a desirable employer? Is the institution you are considering viewed as being a “diploma mill” and not of the same caliber as a more well-known university?
Experienced industry professionals are going to be the best resource for whether an alma mater will bring dignity or disdain to a résumé. Find someone who has the job you want and ask them what they think of your plan. You can do this by visiting offices, sending e-mails, or even cold-calling trade experts and asking if they mind granting you a short interview. Of course, respectfully understand if they cannot spare the time, but most people will be happy to enlighten you on how they achieved success.
The world's evolving professional and educational climates have spawned the need for distance learning, and many colleges—both the good and the not so good—are expanding their offerings to include online degree tracks. Like any savvy consumer, consider your options carefully and explore every angle to ensure you find the path that fits your vision.
Not sure where to get started? Consider dipping your toes in the online education pool with MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses), such as those provided by Coursera.