Removing the constraints of time and distance, studying online opens up countless options and opportunities. But without the classic road trip to get the feel of an institution, how should you know which one to choose? Finding the right college to fit your needs requires some savvy online sleuthing. To ensure your research is thorough, be sure to look into these key factors.
Not all accreditation is the same, and it’s important to understand the differences. Colleges can be accredited on regional, national and specialized levels.
Regional accreditation is governed by the home state and recognized nationally by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Colorado State University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, which grants membership to schools across the North Central region. The standards for this accreditation are particularly high, requiring general education courses and only accepting transfer credits from equally accredited colleges.
National accreditation is usually sought by specific types of schools that don’t necessarily adhere to traditional teaching practices. It is used for alternative colleges, such as trade schools, some distance learning bodies, and religious schools. Specialized accreditation is used for specific programs, accredited by agencies that do not accredit entire learning institutions.
Some online schools opt for national or specialized accreditation, but this accreditation is not as universally recognized as regional accreditation. This can create issues in transferring credits between institutions. Be sure to fully investigate a school’s accreditation, especially if you think you may someday transfer schools, so you don’t end up investing your time and money into courses that cannot be transferred.
Ensuring you attend a school with accreditation that suits your needs is certainly important in your college choice, but it isn’t the only factor. You should also pay some attention to public opinion, and particularly employers’ perceptions. If you know an employer in your field, ask them what they think about the merits of the schools you’re considering.
Money/Return on Investment
Paying for college is a massive commitment, but it’s important to look beyond the up-front fees. Consider the overarching value of your degree. Will it directly lead to a job in a specific industry? Will it give marketable skills that will give you a competitive edge in your job search? Will it lead to a personally fulfilling career? The value of a degree can be measured by a number of different personal priorities.
Financial aid options are also particularly important. Studying online should be flexible, so find a college whose costs and payment plans suit you. You absolutely should be able to have a pressure-free discussion about payment and financial aid options with a school’s financial aid advisors. If it isn’t easy to do, this should raise a red flag. Be wary of schools that don’t have your best financial and academic interests in mind.
The Program Itself
To make the most of your education, particularly when going back to school after time in the workplace, research exactly which programs will be most useful to you. Consider specializations, and assess whether the school effectively mixes theoretical knowledge and practical application. Your course of study should respect the value of education generally, and help expand your skill set rather than place all the focus on churning out qualifications.
Support and Accessibility
The online learning experience may be technically challenging, so make sure you’re not isolated. Find out what options your college offers in regard to speaking with advisors and other students. Also, look at how classes are conducted. Are there opportunities to interact with your peers on a regular basis? A community of support and interaction is important when studying online.
Finally, ask what the college can offer in terms of professional ongoing support after graduation. Does the school offer career services? Is there an alumni association that hosts networking events? Are faculty members connected to employers in your field?
We live in an age where the choices of schools are practically limitless. Be sure you explore all your options when it comes to going back to school. Need some more guidance thinking through your college choices? Get some help with this free worksheet.