Online Colleges

Advice on choosing an online college

Online colleges are educational institutions which grant certificates, diplomas and professional credentials to graduates rather than degrees. They are, in essence, an online version of a trade school or professional training program. Thus, one of the most crucial initial considerations you need to make is whether or not you would be better served to learn a particular trade or skill in an online or real-world environment.

For example, consider what's involved with becoming a welder or an electrician. In addition to the academic training required to master important concepts, you also need to physically learn how to perform specific tasks. In such cases, look for schools which offer a combination of online learning and hands-on training and avoid schools which do not offer the kind of practical instruction you need. You simply won't be able to extract value from your investment, and your studies alone will not be enough for you to become licensed in your chosen trade.

How Online Colleges Work

Many online universities offering degree programs structure their courses to mimic the semester system used in traditional schools. With online colleges, this is not the norm, but rather the exception. With few exceptions, online colleges tend to offer courses on "rolling schedules," which allow new students to get started more quickly and at virtually any time during the year. These rolling schedules depend on the length of the program, the number of students enrolled in the program, and the number of qualified faculty members available to teach the courses. However, it is normal for these schedules to run on intervals ranging from approximately five to sixteen weeks.

The actual structure of the program depends on what you're studying, and on the school itself. Some online colleges allow you to take just one course at a time, essentially letting you determine how quickly you will complete the program requirements and in what order you will take the required classes. Others have more strictly structured programs. As a general rule of thumb, though, most online colleges optimize flexibility for their students. After all, a flexible learning schedule is a major part of the reason people seek out online education rather than attend traditional classes in the first place.

Online Colleges

Do Your Homework

If you're considering an online college, here is a checklist of research points for you to look into:

  • Costs. The cost of attending an online college is generally less than you would pay to go to a traditional school, but even so, tuition and fees are among the most important considerations you should make. Get an idea of the total costs involved, beyond just paying for your tuition. Are there required textbooks or other course materials? Do you need any specialized equipment?
  • Program structure and learning schedules. Look at how the online college structures its program. Is it flexible or inflexible? Does it work within the constraints of your current situation?
  • Accreditation. You want to make sure that any online college you're considering is accredited. This simply means that the certificates and diplomas it awards are officially recognized. The Department of Education maintains a database, where you can determine whether or not a given school is accredited.
  • Ancillary student support services. Does the school offer employment placement services? What other support services are in place? Generally speaking, you should steer clear of online colleges that don't offer much in the way of student support.
  • Graduate success rates. There are two things to consider here: first, how many people who start the program actually finish it? Second, what percentage of graduates goes on to find jobs in their field of study? Be wary of any school that will not provide this information, or gives you information that later proves to be false.

Once you've obtained this information, you can make a point-by-point comparison of the various schools you're considering and arrive at the best decision.