Why Consider Online Colleges?

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Online college student reading on tablet

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, approximately 37% of the jobs listed in their occupational handbook require a college degree. Online colleges make the possibility of earning a post-secondary degree a reality for those whose needs cannot be met by the traditional university system.

Growth of Online Colleges and Classes

As our society and technology continue to evolve and improve, we see that more learning is being done through digital and online mediums. This is leading to a higher percentage of students opting for online college courses instead of traditional college courses. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, almost 6.4 million students took at least one distance education course during the Fall of 2016.

Online College Courses and Student Trends

Online Undergraduate Trends

  1. Online courses are growing in popularity among undergraduate students. In 2012, 14% of the 18.5 million undergraduate students were taking at least one distance education class and 11% were taking exclusively distance or online classes. The most recent NCES study in 2016, showed that of the 17.5 million undergraduate students, 18% were taking at least one online course (up 27%) and 12% were taking exclusively online courses (up 16%).
  2. A high percentage of online undergraduate students live in the same state as their online college. About 60.4% of exclusively online undergraduate students in 2016 attended an online college in the same state as the one where they live, whereas, 36.5% lived in a different state.
  3. Three-fourths of online undergraduate courses are taken through public online colleges. Of the 5.3 million undergraduate students who took at least one online course, 75% attended a public online college, 14% attended a private, nonprofit online college, and 11% attended a private, for-profit online college.

Online Graduate Trends

  1. Online courses are growing in popularity among graduate students. In 2012, 7.5% of the 3 million graduate students were taking at least one online course and 21.9% were exclusively online or distance students. In 2016, 9.2% of the 3 million graduate students in the U.S. had taken at least one online course (up 24%) and 27% took all of their courses online (up 25%).
  2. A higher percentage of online graduate students live in a different state as their online college. Around 41.9% of exclusively online graduate students lived in the same state as their online college whereas 53.8% lived in a different state.
  3. Eighty-percent of online graduate courses are taken from public and private, non-profit schools. Of the 1.1 million graduate students who took at least one online course, 40% attended a public online college, 39% attended a private, nonprofit online college, and 21% attended a private, for-profit online college.
  4. Graduate students seem to prefer online format more than undergraduates Online graduate students are almost 2 times more likely to take online courses from a private, for-profit university than online undergraduate students.

What kind of student goes to online colleges?

Online colleges provide flexibility and are ideal for those who cannot commit themselves to an on-campus schedule or on-campus learning environment.

Those who attend online colleges or take online classes typically do so because they:

  • Work part-time or full-time to maintain their job or career
  • Have responsibilities at home that they have to fulfill, such as children or other personal obligations
  • Live in cities or towns that do not have physical college campuses
  • Do not have a car or mode of transportation or are unable to get to a campus because of a physical disability
  • They have a learning disability or a language barrier and would prefer to take classes online

There’s a lot to consider when it comes to choosing an online college. By finding a school with proper accreditation and a solid reputation, it’s possible to get a credible and competitive education online.

What Can I Expect from an Online College?

“Online learning is not the next big thing, it is the now big thing.” – Donna J. Abernathy

Despite popular belief, online colleges can provide the same academic rigor and expectations as traditional universities. Online colleges require a certain number of credit hours like traditional universities (usually 120 credits for a Bachelor’s degree, the equivalent of about 40 courses).

The length of your degree program will vary based on the number of credits you complete per semester. Since many students at online colleges juggle full-time jobs or responsibilities at home, they may take fewer credit hours per semester and complete their degree at a more comfortable pace. Highly-motivated students can complete their degrees at an accelerated pace by taking more credits per semester.

Most online colleges offer similar formats when it comes to classes. For example, most in-class communication is completed via message boards and chat rooms. Some classes may require students to stream live or virtual lectures, while others may require students to make recordings or do live presentations for special projects. Most online classes offer classes in an asynchronous format, which means all course material can be accessed online. Some colleges, however, may require some synchronous courses, which require you to attend some sort of in-class component, either online at a specific time or in a physical classroom.

Students are expected to communicate regularly with their classmates and professors, practicing netiquette at all times. Networking is a crucial component to online colleges. Students should work to build relationships with classmates and professors who may be valuable help down the road when it comes to letters of recommendation or potential career opportunities. It’s a common misconception that online colleges lack opportunities for networking offered by traditional colleges, however, the responsibility simply lies on the shoulders of students willing to put forth the effort.

It’s also important to note that many traditional colleges now offer online options, such as online degrees and individual online classes in which you pay per credit. Although the latter may not be the most financially efficient way to complete your degree program, it may be a viable option if you’re in need of one or two classes to finish your degree.

Advantages of Online Colleges

“Not everyone fits into the traditional school model, and the online program provides another way for us to meet the diverse and often unique needs of our students.” – Pete Chapin

Depending on your situation, there are numerous advantages to attending online colleges compared to traditional schools, including:

  • More flexibility for working students and stay-at-home parents that want to finish their degree or pursue a new program of study while still focusing on their current careers and responsibilities
  • Increased educational options for those with learning disorders or physical disabilities that make it difficult to get around
  • New learning opportunities for independent learners and those with social anxiety who may excel better in an online setting, working at their own pace
  • More accessibility for students who are unable to relocate or do not live near a university
  • Some specialized degree programs may only be available online
  • Students will be able to take classes concurrently with other education (for example, enrolling in an online class at an online college while you’re attending a traditional college)

In short, online colleges provide numerous benefits to those who may be otherwise restricted or unable to complete their degrees at a traditional four-year university.

Financial Aid for Online Colleges

Thankfully, there are plenty of financial aid options for those looking to attend college online.

Federal Student Aid – Available to students enrolling in an accredited online college through filling out a FAFSA. Some aid packages include funds that do not need to be repaid like traditional loans.

Grants – Thousands of potential dollars in grants are available to prospective students based on financial need or choice of career (for example, TEACH grants are designed for those looking to become educators).

Loans – Federal loan programs offer relatively low interest rates. These loans do not need to paid off until after graduation, however, students should carefully read the specifics of any loan program before applying.

Work-study – Believe it not, work-study is available at select online colleges. Through working in positions like an online assistant, for example, students may offset some of their educational costs through a work-study program.

Scholarships – Much like traditional universities, scholarships are available to online students based on certain criteria such as financial need or career situation (such as the single parent or full-time worker).

Paying for college, online or otherwise, can be a potential headache, however, financial aid is an especially viable option for those already working full-time.

Important Considerations for Choosing an Online College

Although online colleges can offer a legitimate, competitive education, success will require significant time management skills and self-motivation. Likewise, students should consider whether or not they’ll really be able to juggle their job or career and an academic workload.

Similarly to traditional colleges, online colleges can be expensive if you don’t shop around and get financial aid assistance. Students should carefully determine whether or not their prospective online college is properly accredited and avoid ones that are simply a “degree mill,” offering degrees with little or no value at a high cost.

Many students also face issues with employment after graduation, as some employers have a negative perception of online degrees. Although the number of students pursuing an online education is on the rise, employers in career fields requiring hands-on experience, such as physical therapy, may be much less likely to honor an online degree.

The rise of online degree programs from traditional colleges is helping remove the negative stigma of online education. For this reason, it may be advantageous to seek out such programs that already have a positive reputation and have a widely recognized brand.

Interested in a flexible, competitive education online? College Atlas has many online college and online degree options for you to search from. Chances are, the right fit is out there for you.

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