Is Online College A Good Idea?
Thinking about going to college is easy enough. Actually going? That’s more difficult to make happen.
It could be a lack of time preventing you from enrolling, or maybe getting to class is tough because you share a car with your wife. It could be child care—only you know what’s holding you back.
But whatever the reason, nothing should stand in your way of achieving your dream. Attending college classes in the comfort of your own home is becoming a societal norm. Colleges and universities are now making it easier by offering many degree options online.
However, many potential online students are still concerned about the alleged stigma of an online degree and whether employers will take all their hard work seriously. It’s a valid concern. Here’s how to pick a good online degree program.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF ONLINE PROGRAMS?
More colleges are jumping aboard the online ship. There are a variety of avenues to choose from when considering any online distance learning programs.
Fully Online: These programs don’t have a physical campus; all the learning is done via online classrooms.
Hybrid: Hybrid is a mix of in-class and online instruction and learning. You’ll find most hybrid programs usually split it 50/50.
Distance Learning: Many online colleges and universities offer programs that are affiliated with some sort of main college. For example, University of Michigan has a variety of online degrees available through both its Flint and Dearborn locations. You still have to apply and be accepted.
There are so many courses available online that it can be hard to weed through them all. Be aware: If the course is through a free program, you won’t receive any credits for it toward your degree. However, these are still useful if you just want to learn skills on the side.
CHOOSING A GOOD ONLINE COLLEGE
Not all distance learning programs are created equal. Pay attention to these things when you are searching for online programs.
- Reputation matters: Be wary of schools that are strictly online. Colleges with a brick and mortar presence will have a better reputation.
- Accreditation is important: Be certain the school you’re looking at is fully accredited. You’ll spend a lot of time and money on a degree that won’t transfer and may not be legit.
- Accessibility to real people: Will it be easy to speak with professors, counselors, and other administrative staff?
- Time taken to the degree: If the school is bragging about a quick route to a bachelor’s degree, run away from that school. Quickly. There’s no fast-track plowing through four years of credits needed to earn that degree, aside from doing credit cramming every semester. However, there are many diploma or certificate programs you can do in a year or less.
- Say no to diploma mills: Diploma mills make it much easier to get a “degree.” However, legitimate colleges will make you work equally as hard as their in-person students. You may think you want an easier way, but no. You really don’t. One way to spot a diploma mill is through its accreditation; make sure it is legitimate. Check online reviews. Most of these types of schools have a multitude of complaints against them.
THE STAMP OF APPROVAL
When doing any type of post-secondary education search, one thing to be very mindful of is whether or not the school is accredited. Keep in mind is that reputable schools have accreditation. When the cost for education at a school is pretty cheap, do your research. When things seem too good to be true, there's something not right!
Here are some questions to ask yourself when looking at a school or program:
- Is the school/program recognized by the Department of Education?
- Is the accreditation status posted online? It should be!
- What does the school's overall accreditation look like? Institutional or specialized? One or the other is fine. Both is even better.
- Is the accreditation regional or national? Either one is fine in general, but it also depends on your career goals.
- If you plan on transferring to another program, your credits must come from an accredited school.
- Is the school's accreditation history consistent?
- Does it even matter to your future career if the school is accredited?
- Is the accreditation institution legitimate?
HOW DO ONLINE DEGREE PROGRAMS WORK?
Once you’ve applied for and have been accepted to your distance learning program, the rest is a fairly simple process. Of course, it always depends on the learning platform the college is using; some are more complicated than others. But overall, it’s a straightforward format.
- First off, you’ll need to have a computer. Whether it’s a desktop or laptop is strictly a personal preference. Some schools may even provide you with a school-issued computer. You will also need to have access to the internet, because it is online college, after all. If you are confused with the whole logging on process, all you usually need to do is contact the professor or your counselor, and they can help walk you through it.
- Once you’ve logged into the online classroom, you will be given your course instructions. Sometimes you may have to watch a lecture or read materials. Most of the time, the lectures are prerecorded, and you’ll have a certain amount of time to access them. Treating online school like you would a live class is the best approach: Pay attention, take notes, and follow the syllabus.
- Assignments are usually located in an assignment section of the online classroom, which is usually easily found on the site. There will be online assignments, as well as some offline where you’ll have to upload your completed tasks.
- Lastly, there may be a classroom forum where you’ll be required to do some engaging with other classmates, as well as the professor. There may be “office hours” set up by the professor where you can get some of your questions answered. You’ll also ask the class questions on the topic, and answer other students’ questions.
IS ONLINE SCHOOL AS EXPENSIVE AS REGULAR COLLEGE?
Similar to the colleges of the physical kind, online learning can vary in pricing. You won’t be paying a campus living expense of any kind, so weigh that into your bottom-line college budget. Very broadly, online classes are usually less expensive due to the fact that there is less the college has to worry about, such as having a classroom and the costs that go into that.
One thing to keep in mind is that the cost of the online class doesn’t make it better or worse than the education you’d get in a traditional setting. That factor is more weighted on the actual course and the professor, not how much it cost you. For online classes, you can expect to spend between $100-$400 per course credit hour. So, a four-credit class will cost you between $400-$1,200.
While cost may be a factor, also look at what the school’s admission rate versus graduation rate is, along with post-graduation employment rate. This information should be disclosed on any college’s website. That will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about that school. Then you can decide if it’s affordable and worth it.
Similar to brick and mortar colleges and universities, financial aid may be available. One thing to keep in mind, only accredited schools have financial aid eligibility for their students. Check with your schools admissions or financial aid department for more information. All schools have different requirements and guidelines.
IS IT RIGHT FOR YOU?
Online distance learning courses have so many checks in the pro column. However, just like with traditional in-class learning colleges, there are also some drawbacks. Deciding what’s important to you will help you determine the chances of your success with online schooling.
The one major negative is the lack of traditional college experiences brick and mortar campuses have. Unless you had already been there, done that, it could be something you may regret in the future. Many memories and friendships are made through the whole going-to-college adventure.
POPULAR ONLINE DEGREE OPTIONS
Nowadays, most degrees can be done partially or fully online. One of the most popular online programs lately is the online medical assistant. Listed below are some of the popular online programs, but this is just a very small sampling. There are many more options through a myriad of trade schools, colleges, and universities throughout the United States.
- Criminal justice: Baker College, Keiser University, and Miller-Motte College are just some of the many colleges that offer online criminal justice programs. With a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, you can earn a median salary of more than $58K annually. Your career options are vast within the field of law enforcement.
- Healthcare administration: If you’re looking for a degree in healthcare administration, ECPI University offers a bachelor’s degree program online. The median annual salary for healthcare administrators is more than $96K annually.
- Medical billing and medical coding: You can find online medical billing and medical coding programs through Blue Cliff College, McCann School of Business & Technology, Miller-Motte Technical College, and Ultimate Medical Academy. Medical billers and medical coders both earn over $38K annually, on average.
- Medical assisting: In this career, you can expect to earn an average salary of over $31K. Schools such as Dawn Career Institute (dental assisting), Keiser University, The College of Health Care Professions, and Ultimate Medical Academy offer degree programs in medical assisting.
- Nursing: ECPI University offers a bachelor’s degree program for registered nursing. With a bachelor’s degree, your median salary will be over $68K per year.
Choosing an online degree track makes so much sense, no matter what situation you’re in. Because it’s becoming so commonplace, as long as you’re going through a reputable school with an accredited program, you won’t have to worry about potential employers turning up their noses to all your hard work. It’s time to go get your degree!