7 Things You Should Consider When Choosing an Online College
Online schools were once considered to be only for the busiest of working people. These days, they’re geared toward helping anyone who wants to sign up, whether you’re busy with a job and family, are in a remote area that makes it difficult to get to classes in person, or simply don’t feel that you can currently deal with classrooms full of other students in person. They’ve become so popular, in fact, that the number of online colleges continues to grow at a stunning rate. There are hundreds to choose from - many based in brick and mortar colleges around the world, some located solely online. It can be incredibly daunting to sort through them to find the right school for you. It’s important to consider carefully, though, and make certain that the college you choose is one that will not only fit into your life, but that it will also be a stepping stone to your career. There are some criteria to keep in mind when choosing the school that might be a part of your life for the next few years.
1. Choose an Accredited School
Generally speaking, a degree coming from a college that’s accredited is worth far more to potential employers. There are widespread reports of human resources departments being instructed to toss out applications from people whose résumés include an unaccredited college. This is true for both virtual and physical campuses, but it’s far easier for an online college to start up with no credentials whatsoever. Schools tend to display their accreditation information proudly. If you can’t find anything about it on their website, it’s probably best to steer clear.
2. Established Colleges
Distance education has been around for hundreds of years, first in the form of correspondence courses. The internet age brought about the first online class in 1984. There are now online classes for almost anything you could desire to learn about. When choosing your online college, look for long established schools that have excellent reputations. The longer they’ve been around, the fewer problems they tend to have when it comes to programs and bringing students the best of teaching methods and technologies.
3. Course and Program Choices
Great online colleges have wide arrays of programs to help you get where you want to go, whether that means learning for sake of broadening your mind or completing a program to help in furthering your career. Look for schools that don’t have trouble keeping programs open and that don’t close programs or drop course offerings often. Lack of classes or delayed programs can knock you off your path. A good online university will have enough availability that you won’t have trouble getting everything you want. The best way to find out if a school has what you need is by speaking directly with an advisor or counselor who deals with enrollment.
4. Scheduling Flexibility
Arranging your classes according to your own convenience is one of the best things about online colleges. Look for a school that offers the ability to log in whenever you’re able to rather than putting you on a strict schedule. This includes being able to participate in class discussions over the course of days instead of between particular hours, viewing any media when you can instead of needing to watch or listen live, and having a choice of when you can sit for exams.
One of the best things about online schools is the enormous range of classes offered. A school with good diversity in course offerings and programs will allow you to choose from not only your requirements, but also to bring in electives that you’ll enjoy, and to change your major in the event of a change in personal or career goals. Depending on how far you want to go, also consider looking for a school offering advanced degrees even if you don’t plan to pursue a doctorate right away. This will allow you to stay with a school that you know and enjoy in the event you decide to go farther, instead of having to look for a new school sometime down the road.
6. Environment and Accessibility
One of the top reasons many people avoid online classes is the fear that they’ll sign up and then be unable to handle the virtual environment. Do some research into the learning environment of the schools you consider, looking at both the form of the “classroom” as well as how you can access it. Some students would rather deal with a forum type environment. Others prefer live video chat form for the social feel of a real classroom. Consider what you’ll be accessing materials with - laptop, tablet, or smartphone - and make certain the format allows for it. It should be easy to navigate and enjoyable to use. If it frustrates you right away and things are difficult to use or find, look somewhere else.
7. Help and Support Services
The need for technical support in the online world is a given sooner or later. The same goes for personal help with course and program issues. Make certain the school you choose has an excellent reputation with support. Ideally, find one providing both varieties of support 24/7 so that you’re never caught without help when you’re in a pinch.