Stuck in a boring job? Want to advance but are limited by your education? Getting passed over for promotions? You’ve probably decided that you need to go back to school to finish a degree or pursue an advanced degree. That is just the first decision you need to make. Next up is choosing the perfect online university that not only provides you with the courses you need to earn the degree of your choice but also gives you the flexibility you need to finish your degree on your schedule.
The number of students taking at least one online course has passed 6.7 million, or 32 percent of students enrolled in college, according to the latest Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group and the College Board.
The number of universities offering online programs continues to increase. Many colleges now offer online-only programs, allowing students to attend a college or university in a different state or a part of the country far from where they live.
So how does a student find the best available online university for them? Keep the following considerations in mind as you narrow down your search to pick the online university that best fits you.
- Accredited status –Make certain to choose an accredited school to earn your degree because it will give your degree more status and meaning when you’re applying for jobs or sharing your educational background in a professional setting. To earn accredited status, the school has to meet certain basic requirements for academic quality according to the S. Department of Education and the Council of Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). The six regional associations that provide accreditation in the United States have lists of the colleges and universities that have met the standards and are accredited, and the universities you’re interested in attending will be certain to list their accreditation status if it has been earned.
- Degree programs available – If you’re pursuing your bachelor’s degree or looking to advance your education with a graduate degree, you need to find a university that offers the degree program you want in an online setting. Many universities only offer partial degrees online, requiring students to take some courses in a campus classroom to complete the degree. If you are a student who is working full-time, this type of program might not accommodate your work schedule – especially if you live in an area of the country that does not have university campuses nearby.
- Flexibility of scheduling – Some online universities run their online degree programs the same way they run their campus classes. They have a semester or trimester calendar year, and they require online students to start and complete a class within that time frame. Other online colleges like Ashford University have a continuous class schedule for bachelor’s degrees. Students are recommended to only enroll in one class at a time, and they move onto the next class in the sequence for their degree without a break. They can enroll any time of the year, and undergraduate courses are offered in an accelerated, five-week format. This type of flexibility gives working students the ability to work toward their degree when it best fits into their work and family life.
- Technology– Significant advancements have happened in technology in the last few years, making it important for online universities to keep abreast of the latest advancements. It used to be a university had to just have a website that played lecture videos and allowed students to download reading materials or upload homework assignments. That doesn’t cut it anymore.
Now, online university technology includes apps, streaming capabilities, access to entire digital libraries, mobile access, and much more. Some online colleges like Ashford University even have their own digital technology designed specifically for the university student’s use. These programs allow students to interact with classmates and professors on tablets and smartphones using apps. They can also use them to review tuition payment records, download books from the school library system, or even view their grades virtually.
- Tuition costs – Some universities that offer online courses will still charge out-of-state tuition for students who don’t live in the state where the campus is located. These out-of-state fees can quickly add up and make the online degree very costly. Students who are interested in an online university should either choose a university where they would be considered a resident of the state, or look for universities that do not charge out-of-state tuition.
- Transfer of credits – If you’ve taken courses toward a degree but never graduated, it would be nice to earn credit for those classes and not have to take them again, right? When looking for an online university, visit the admission’s office website to find out if the university accepts the transfer of credits already earned. You’ll probably have to provide transcripts from your previous college, but that extra legwork will be worth not needing to take the course again. Plus, you’ll be able to earn your degree in less time.
For those who have worked in their career field a number of years and are looking to complete or earn an advanced degree, some online universities will also give credit for knowledge learned on the job. You may be required to take a test, for a fee, to determine your abilities in certain courses. Again, the money and time saved by not repeating information you’ve already learned will be invaluable. Be sure to contact the admission’s office for the universities you are considering to understand their transfer policies.
These six tips provide helpful guidelines to find the perfect online university for the degree you want to pursue. Finishing a degree or earning an advanced degree involves time and money, so be sure to carefully evaluate the universities you’re interested in. This way, when you enroll you’ll know you’re earning your degree from the online university that best matches your learning needs.