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Top 10 Questions to Ask when Choosing an Online College

Whether you are a student just out of high school or a working adult looking to advance their degree, online classes can be an excellent way to complete a degree program on a pace that fits your busy schedule. Over the last several years, many top accredited colleges across the country have developed online versions of their degree programs to fit the changing needs of their student body – but how do you know which school is the right choice for you?

Choosing a college is the first step on the path to reaching your long-term career goals, and it is essential that you do your research before committing to an online degree program. There are several factors to consider when picking the college that is right for you – from tuition costs to student support and profesisonal reputation.

To help you choose the right college to meet your needs, we have put together a list of the top 10 questions you should ask before enrollment. By thoroughly researching the school beforehand, you can avoid many of the common pitfalls of online education and ensure that you are working towards a degree that gives you the best chance to enter into a rewarding career.

What to Ask Before Committing to an Online Degree Program
We receive countless questions from students who are trying to navigate the world of online schooling, and many of them center around determining which colleges are actually legitimate. Most of the online degree programs that you will find are offered by accredited brick-and-mortar universities with long-standing reputations for quality education.

After you have narrowed down a list of potential universities for your online degree program, ask the following questions to help you make a decision that is right for you:

1) Does the school offer degrees that match your long-term goals?
The first thing you need to consider when looking at online colleges is determining if the degrees they offer match the requirements of your future professional industry. Some careers, including those in psychology, medical, teaching, and social work, require professional licensing before you can practice within the field. Find out if your school’s degree program meets these requirements before enrolling at the college to ensure that you will be pursuing an education that allows you to continue advancing your career.

In addition to professional licensing requirements, it is also important to look at the advanced degrees offered by your chosen school. Do they offer master’s and doctorate level degrees in your field? If not, do they have a transfer policy to make easier for you to continue your education? Many career paths now cater to those with graduate level degrees, and planning ahead for your future education is a vital step in the college selection process.

2) Is the college accredited?
College accreditation is one of the most important factors to research when making a decision on an online degree program. When a school is accredited by a recognized agency, it means that they have gone through a rigorous evaluation process to ensure that their curriculum and programs meet high quality standards. Many professional industries require that students obtained their degree from an accredited school, and most licensing agencies will not certify a graduate that did not complete an accredited degree program.

There are numerous regional and national accrediting agencies that are recognized in the United States. The United States Department of Education’s website is an excellent starting point for researching the different reputable agencies.

3) What is the school’s professional reputation?
While this may seem like a broad question, it is a vital aspect of choosing a school that will give you the tools you need to succeed after graduation. Colleges and universities enjoy a positive professional reputation when they have a long history of producing qualified graduates and meeting strict standards of quality for their degree programs.

There are several ways to research the reputation of a school – from word of mouth recommendations to online review sites. We also recommend that you speak with your school’s admission counselor. During this meeting, ask questions regarding any recognitions and awards the school are received, their accreditation status, and the graduation and job placement rates of their student body.

4) What is the job placement rate for your degree program?
As mentioned above, asking your potential school about their job placement rate can help give you a better idea of the quality and support offered by their online course offerings. After all, the reason that the majority of students attend college is to earn a degree that can help them pursue professional employment.

Some schools also offer additional student supports, including job placement assistance and career counseling. When you combine the student services that are offered with high employment statistics from graduates of the program, you can have confidence knowing that your online degree will offer you the opportunity to work towards your long-term career goals.

5) What type of learning platforms do they offer?
There are several different ways that online classes can be offered to students, and it is important to have an understanding of your school’s expectations and requirements before committing to a degree program. Some schools offer self-paced online classes, while other require attendance at live online lectures or in-person events.

Additionally, certain degree programs may require students to complete part of their courses on-campus, and you need to be realistic about the attendance requirements when deciding if the degree program is right for you. Degrees in science-based fields or those that involve direct patient contact often have mandatory on-site labs, internships, and practicums that students must attend to meet graduation requirements.

6) What about extra support and student services?
A positive educational environment goes beyond quality curriculum and the availability of online classes. Many top universities also offer additional support and student services to their online students as well as traditional, on-campus students. These services provide additional technical, career, and educational support that can help students reach their highest potential in their degree program.

Examples of student services for online students include virtual advisement and mentorship programs, online tutoring, access to extensive online resources, and 24/7 technical support.

7) Are there opportunities to accelerate your degree program?
One of the biggest draws of an online education is the flexibility it offers to log in to your classes anytime and anywhere. For some students, this allows them the opportunity to take part-time classes and complete their degree at a slower pace to meet their financial and family obligations. For other students, the chance to accelerate their degree program in order to graduate on a shorter timeframe is their top priority.

Many schools offer a variety of ways that students can accelerate the pace of their degree program. During your research, ask about the various options that may be available to you, including taking classes year-round, completing accelerated 8-week courses, or using credits for prior learning to “test out” of specific classes.

8) Does the school accept transfer credits?
Whether you have some prior college under your belt or you simply want to accelerate your degree program based upon life experience, understanding the school’s transfer policy for credits is essential. Some schools will allow students to test out of classes with examinations such as the CLEP. Others will allow up to a certain number of prior college credits from an accredited school to be transferred into your new degree program.

The flexibility of schools in accepting transfer credits varies greatly. The best course of action is to meet with your school’s academic advisor to discuss the various options that are available to you.

9) What about financial aid and tuition costs?
While finding the time to attend classes is often a barrier to education for working adult students, the rising costs of tuition can also create an obstacle to earning a degree. Luckily, there are many different forms of financial aid available to students to help them finance their education. In fact, some college even offer reduced rates for online degree programs!

The first step to obtaining financial aid is to fill out the FAFSA as early as possible every year. This will give you access to federal grants and loans that may be able to finance a large part of your degree program. You should also check with the school about any grants or scholarships that they offer – including those for minorities, single parents, and working adult students.

10) What are the credentials of the school’s faculty?
A quality curriculum is essential for online education, but learning the skills needed to succeed after graduation also depends on qualified instructors. Even with online education, you will be in contact with your professors throughout your course of study, and it is important that you are confident in their credentials and ability to provide instruction.

Many schools have websites with a dedicated “Faculty” page that is a good place to start when researching your potential instructors. Here you will be able to see short biographies on the various faculty members, as well as get a better understanding of their education, awards, and accolades in their field.

Choosing an online college is not a process to be taken lightly, and asking the right questions can make all the difference in finding the right match for your future goals! With some extra research and patience, you can find an online program that meets your schedule needs and puts you on the path towards entering into a profesisonal career.

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