Are Online Colleges As Good?

Are Online Colleges As Good?

You are graduating from high school and you have no idea of what you will do after that diploma walk. Or, you may be employed in a dead-end, thankless job and you want to improve your chances of getting a real career. The answer to both dilemmas may be an online degree. You may have thought about going to college, and have even looked at degree options, but perhaps you haven’t considered an online degree.

There are many benefits to this type of learning and few caveats. Some people still hold on to the belief that online schools are somehow inferior to brick-and-mortar institutions. That idea stems from the flood of for-profit online degree programs that appeared in the nineties. Unquestionably, some schools offered worthless degrees to anyone who could pay for them. Today, however, most employers agree that graduates from accredited online schools are just as qualified as those from traditional colleges. An article from “The Open Education Data Base” even asserts that some online programs, such as paralegal career paths and some business degrees, are actually better than offerings from traditional colleges.
Attending an online school offers freedom in scheduling your day. You can sit in on a class forum or chat room over your lunch hour, for instance. Class time may be structured around work and family time. You can study when the children are asleep, and attend to them when they are ill. Though most experts recommend setting a regular study routine, you decide what that routine will be. You don’t have to venture out in bad weather, either, or worry about transportation.
You can still work while you pursue your degree. You progress at your own pace within set deadlines, so you can review material until you feel competent in it and then take the exam, as long as you meet the deadline for that test. It may even take less time to get your degree online because most online schools do not require a lot of electives unless they are germane to your major. In addition, while some online schools are as costly as traditional ones, most offer lower tuition. Even the pricier online institutions may be a bargain though, because there is no commuting cost. Textbooks and other learning materials can often be downloaded instead of purchasing them from a bookstore. With online learning, you do not have the added expense of room and board (although some brick-and-mortar schools that have an online component require a short on-campus presence).

How do I Get Started

The steps to getting an online degree are not too different from entering a traditional program. You have to decide on a field of study, select a school and determine how long the program will take. Using this information, students will be able to approximate what the education will cost and apply for financial aid if they need it.

How Do I Decide on a School

Whether you attend a traditional college or an online school, the first thing to consider is accreditation. While some less-reputable schools may skirt the issue, some will claim to be accredited by non-existent organizations, or organizations not recognized by the state. This means students must research the schools the way informed consumers research any major purchase. You should find out
  • Do credits transfer if you change programs or schools? If another school is not willing to accept the credits you earn at an online school, there may be a reason.
  • Does the school accept credits you earned previously? Some people drop out of college because of the need to work full time or because they burn out, and return a year or two later. If you attended school through your sophomore year and then quit to work, will the school take those credits into account or will you lose them?
  • Does the curriculum measure up to that of other schools for your major?
  • Is there a support service to handle your concerns and to help you decide on academic issues?

How Do I Apply to the School

The application process is the same as for a brick-and-mortar college. Applications are available at the college website. You will need to have your transcript, any essay required for personal information, and you must have decided on your field of study. Applicants to online schools generally have to fill out a FAFSA form as well.

How Do I Apply for Financial Aid

If you need financial aid, the FAFSA form is the first step. It automatically matches students to federal funding for which they qualify, including the Pell Grant. There are also many scholarships available. Sometimes schools have their own scholarships, but often private corporations and individuals offer assistance. You can find comprehensive lists of grants and scholarships by looking at your state’s education website. Grants and scholarships do not have to be repaid. You may not get enough funding through those, however. Once you have exhausted all federal opportunities, you may consider student loans from banks and lending institutions. Take into account the length of the program and any other expenses such as fees and borrow no more than you need.
If the college has a support (guidance) program, an adviser can map out a degree path for you, including any prerequisite classes the school may require, which will help you to decide how much aid you will need. They can also help you identify, and apply for, other funding. If you qualify for special programs such as aid for Native Americans or military funding, be certain to apply for these. In some cases, military branches pay 100 percent of tuition.
Online degree programs offer education that can be tailored to your needs. It requires as much, if not more, discipline as traditional schools, but you can succeed.

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