The flexibility of online colleges can make it easier for you to advance your education around a busy schedule. It also provides a great entry point if you’re a recent high school graduate looking to attend college for the first time.
The decision to enroll in an online college should be approached with the same seriousness and due diligence as any university. Thanks to the accessibility and ease of enrollment, it can be tempting to view online college as the easy route to get a college education, but this is far from the truth.
Here are seven questions to ask yourself when searching for an online college.
1. Do online colleges offer the degree you want?
Depending on the degree you’re pursuing, you may have to do a bit of research to find the right online program that will offer what you are seeking. Many careers also require licensing and certification before you are allowed to work, so it is important to make sure the online college you’re considering meets the necessary requirements before enrolling.
Over 22% of all workers in the U.S. have some sort of licensing, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. If the career you want requires any kind of licensing credentials, you should confirm with the college to ensure they provide the education necessary to prepare you for licensing.
2. Is the online college accredited?
Accreditation is the process that ensures educational institutions and programs maintain a certain standard of quality. Depending on what career you’re pursuing, keep in mind that many employers will only hire applicants with degrees from an accredited source. Before enrolling in an online college program, research and verify the college’s credentials on the U.S. Department of Education site.
3. What are the costs of online college and is financial aid available?
Cost and access to financial aid are two of the biggest barriers to overcome for individuals wanting an education. Fortunately, the financial aid process has been simplified and a majority of students are eligible for some kind of aid. Be sure to fill out the FAFSA form to know how much financial aid you will be eligible to receive.
In addition, many colleges may have their own scholarship programs to help with tuition costs. Contact the financial aid department of the online college you are considering to see which kinds of scholarships are available.
4. Will an online college be able to transfer credits from or to another college?
If your online college program is a continuation of an existing education, or, if you are planning on moving on to another institution after you complete the online degree, it’s important to be clear on how they approach transferring credits. Even if a college is accredited, it does not mean all of their credits are transferable.
The amount of variance among colleges when it comes to credit transfers can be all over the map. If you plan on transferring credits in or out, you’ll need to contact the school’s academic advisors to clarify which ones will qualify.
5. What does student support look like at online colleges?
A positive online college experience can be derailed if student support is lacking. From technical issues to counseling and wellness, an online college should have a solid support system for when you need assistance. A great online college program will have individuals on hand to assist with navigating the course material, mentoring, and direction.
6. Is an online college right for you?
Learning preferences vary, and online colleges have adapted to accommodate all types of learners. Some individuals, however, just do better in a live classroom setting, away from all the distractions of home. If you fall into that category, you might struggle a little bit more at an online college.
If an online college is the only option available to you, make sure to take advantage of all the student support the school has to offer and don’t be afraid to email or call your professors directly to ask for assistance.
The popularity of online colleges is rising and nearly all the established institutions have some kind of online curriculum. Online colleges might not ever replace traditional classrooms completely, but they’ve grown to become a fixture in academia and are expected to continue seeing high enrollment numbers.