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Considering the Online Option

We all know that pursuing a degree is an expensive, time consuming proposition. As a result, many aspiring students, encumbered with a myriad of responsibilities, feel that higher education is simply not within their grasp. Fortunately, that’s all changing with the growth of online education. Allowing for both flexibility and affordability, online courses offer students the opportunity to attend college from within the comfort of their own homes. Therefore, if going the traditional college route doesn’t seem feasible to you, an online education might be a great alternative. 

Here are a few things to consider as you weigh your options:

Keys to Success

The simultaneous challenge and benefit of an online education is that it’s up to you to make your own schedule. Hence, the most successful online students are ones who are highly motivated and self-disciplined. Indeed, while your professors will set deadlines for assignments, there aren’t weekly classes that you must attend. And though it’s great to be able to work at your own pace, in this scenario, it’s all too easy for complacency to take hold. Don’t expect to be able to cram in all of your work during the one hour you set aside on a Wednesday night. Online classes demand your attention and you will have to carve out an appropriate amount of time.

Additionally, it’s important to remember that nearly all of your discussions and discourse will take place via forums, message boards, etc. Thus, should you pursue an online education you will quickly discover that strong writing and communication skills are a huge asset. You’ll need to be adept at expressing yourself and crafting arguments.   

Obviously, comfort and familiarity with computers is also critical. After all, your education will be taking place virtually. You will need to understand how to navigate online forums, access assignments and upload your work.  And, of course, you’ll require frequent and reliable access to the internet.

Evaluating Online Programs

Given that the online education industry is booming, you’ll certainly have a large number of options from which to choose. However, it’s important to be discerning about which program you end up selecting. Just like deciding on a brick and mortar university, you need to carefully consider your online alternatives. 

One way to determine whether or not a school is reputable is by investigating its accreditation (or lack thereof).  Accreditation typically guarantees that a school is meeting certain academic standards and criteria. You should keep an eye out for one of these six trustworthy regional accreditation associations:

  • The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and College, Commission on Higher Education
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, The Higher Learning Commission
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, Commission on Colleges
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges, Accrediting Commission for Senior Colleges and Universities and Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges
Of course, there’s a lot to consider beyond accreditation as well. First off, you should research the professors associated with particular programs. What are their educational backgrounds? Do they have real world experiences? You should also confirm that you’ll be able to transfer credits if you decide to enroll somewhere else in the future (or vice versa). Additionally, be sure to research both the graduation and employment rates of the programs you're contemplating. Red flags should be raised if either is particularly low.

Further, we recommend investigating the support services offered. For example, are there financial aid officers who can help guide you through the process? Is there a career services office of which to take advantage when you’re ready to job hunt? Where do current students turn if they are confused on a topic and/or assignment? If any of these services appear to be lacking, it’s best to look elsewhere. 

Online programs are a fantastic option for individuals whose lives are filled with familial and/or professional obligations. Though they might lack the bells and whistles of campus life, they provide a wonderful and fulfilling education for many students. And if accessibility is a high priority for you, well, nothing tops an online program.  We dare you to find a better commute!


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Don Munce