For centuries, traditional brick and mortar universities have provided students the opportunity to earn a college degree. Nowadays, students can earn a fully accredited degree from the comfort of their own home through an online university.
Online universities offer students the convenience of completing course assignments from anywhere at any time as long as they have access to a computer and a solid internet connection. They also enable students who have a full- or part-time job to keep working while going to school—without having to quit their job.
How Does an Online University Differ from a Traditional University?
There are three main differences between online universities and traditional universities: cost, flexibility, and social life.
It’s widely known that the cost of tuition and fees at traditional universities have skyrocketed in recent years. Tuition costs at an online university can vary depending on the university and program you’re interested in.
Attending an online university, however, allows students to live in any city or state and avoid students from having to compete for local jobs in college towns.
Traditional university classes are offered at set times in specific classrooms with assigned professors; online classes, while still with appointed professors, allow students to pick their own physical settings and complete coursework during whatever time of day or night that works best for them. While most online classes still have weekly deadlines, students can work through the course material whenever they are able to. This allows many students to work full-time jobs and maintain a healthy work-life balance with a considerably more flexible schedule.
- Social life.
It’s no secret that the word “college” often connotes semi-awkward social functions, late night parties, and in some instances, weird roommates. Since a physical campus isn’t generally a part of the online university experience, campus activities and organizations, such as clubs, fraternities or sororities, or intramural sports leagues aren’t available to online students. As previously mentioned, attending an online university gives students the chance to live wherever—and with whatever social scene—they pick for themselves.
Attending classes online, however, doesn’t mean students have no contact with their classmates. In online classes, students still get to interact with their peers and professors through message boards and video chats. In fact, many online colleges even require this interaction as part of a grade.
If having a social life is an important to you, consider finding a hybrid—partially online, partially in-person—program, such as at the University of Kentucky or Texas Woman’s University. A hybrid program would enable you to still enjoy an online university experience, while still being able to participate in on-campus activities.
What Is the Application Process Like?
As with traditional schools, the application process varies from online university to online university, but the basic process is often the same in regards to application fees and deadlines to submit documentation.
While most online universities still have regular application deadlines, many of them have multiple start dates throughout the year, depending on the program. This allows students to begin their schooling whenever it is most convenient. For example, at the University of Florida, there are three start dates per year: spring, summer, and fall for students to choose from. Similarly, students interested Boston University College of Arts degrees can apply for admission for Fall I, Fall II, Summer I, Summer II, Spring I, and Spring II. Be sure to check the application dates the online university you’d like to attend to ensure you apply on time.
Some online universities, like Kaplan University, even allows students to enroll in a class for the first three weeks tuition-free to see if the online program is a good fit for them.
What Is Accreditation and Why Is It Important?
There are a lot of courses offered online, but not all of them come from accredited online universities. Legitimate accreditation certifies that a university or program provides a quality education.
Before applying, it’s important to check a university’s accreditation—not only to ensure that the school is accredited, but also to ensure that it is legitimate. To check for legitimacy, students should research the accreditation agency; it should be recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.
Most jobs in today’s workforce require a post-secondary education and the companies that require an additional degree care about whether or not those degrees came from accredited universities. If the degree was obtained from an unaccredited university, it’s likely the employer won’t consider it sufficient.
Please be cautious when looking for an online university’s accreditation. Unfortunately, some institutions claim to be accredited by an agency that—unbenownst to the student— is fake to appear legitimate and attractive. To verify the accreditation is legitimate, make sure the accreditation is listed on the U.S. Department of Education institutional search tool. You can also search on the College Atlas online database.
In addition to improving job-hunting odds, accreditation is required for students to receive state and federal financial aid with their college expenses. This applies to both grants and loans. Accreditation is also required for students for some licensure examinations.
Selecting an Online University That is Best for You
If you’re looking to obtain a bachelor’s or master’s degree without having to quit your job and have more flexibility in your weekly schedule, an online university is an option you should consider. All you need is internet access and a computer.
Spend some time researching accredited online universities in your home state as well as other online universities offered nationally. Also, compare the tuition costs for each as well as the application deadline, and whether the program you’re interested in is 100 percent online, or a hybrid program.
Once you begin your desired online program, you will have to set apart time each week to dedicate to studying and completing your assignments. After about two to four years on average, you will be able to finish your degree and find a job in your desired field.