For many people, online education is still a relatively new concept. There are now hundreds of courses (some even for free!) and degrees available online, from institutions that range from highly ranked, accredited universities to predatory for-profit diploma mills. Recent statistics show that students who initially opt to pursue a degree online are often not prepared to commit the time necessary for studying and testing well on the class material, and some students drop out of online programs altogether. Still, there are many advantages to getting a degree online, as long as you do a little homework in advance. Take a look at these seven things you must do if you plan to get a degree online.
Ask yourself what kind of degree you need:
Traditional bachelor’s and master’s degrees, as well as associate degrees and certificates, are available online at for-profit and a growing number of not-for-profit colleges and universities. There are more and more free courses available now as online, non-accredited courses taught by highly respected professors, but that offer no certification. Think hard about your career goals in order to decide what kind of course, certification, or degree is best suited for achieving that goal.
Check out the school:
Before committing to completing and, of course, paying for your online education, thoroughly investigate the online college offering the degree. Determine whether or not the school is accredited, as most employers and colleges will not accept credits from an unaccredited school. Check with potential employers to see what online colleges their employees have utilized for their own education. And use the power of Google’s search engine to see what consumers and consumer advocates are saying about the online college you’re considering.
Look at the syllabus:
A college class syllabus, which provides an outline of the course including test dates and a list of required reading material, is an especially crucial piece of information for you as an online student, especially if you work full-time, have children, or are in the military. If you are already juggling a busy schedule, use the syllabus to calendar out your online class schedule so that you don’t miss any due dates, including daily check-ins, assignments, and final tests.
Sort out any tech issues:
Generally speaking, for any online course, you’ll need a computer with a built-in microphone connected to speakers and a printer. Get an email address that’s reliable and resistant to hacking and spam. Google mail is excellent, and you’ll have a calendar and the ability to upload and access documents at other computers as well. Before buying any software, see if the school provides free downloads from a technical support page.
Consider tuition (and additional fees!):
One of the biggest consumer complaints in the news these days is the cost and relative value of an online education. Since you’ll most likely be juggling work and other responsibilities with your online course load, make sure you know how long it will take for you to complete your degree, and what the final cost will be. There are hidden costs to getting an online degree, including technology fees and the cost of specific course materials. In order to follow through with your long-term commitment to getting a degree, you will need to know exactly how much doing so is going to cost you.
Apply for loans, scholarships, and grants:
To offset the cost of an online degree, you have the option of applying for federal student loans, as well as several scholarships and grants. As with any loan, be careful not to let yourself be pushed into taking out a loan you have no way of paying back. If an online school is pushing a loan on you, chances are you want to look elsewhere for your education. There are fewer scholarships available to online learners compared to traditional learners, but they do exist. As you research the online college you’re interested in, check to see what sort of scholarships they offer.
Budget your time:
Working at your own pace requires discipline and a commitment to completing your work on time. Leaving the work to be done at the last minute or not at all defeats the purpose and advantages of online education. So look at your daily schedule and decide where you can realistically fit in your study and online class time. If you have kids, assign them chores you normally take care of, so you can have the extra time you need to complete your degree. Make a plan, and stick to it.