Distance learning: Online College Degrees

Distance learning & Online College Degrees --Things you must know -

Advantages to earning a degree online

Colleges and universities across the world offer online degree programs to students that want to continue their education from the comfort of their homes. What are the advantages to earning a degree online? And how can you find the right program and school?

Earning an online degree can help you do better at your job, can improve your earning potential and let you become eligible for promotions. Many upper-level positions are only offered to applicants that have completed bachelor or masters degrees. Online college degrees can give you the chance to learn new skills and learn about a subject you are passionate about. And studies have shown that the average college graduate makes approximately one million dollars more during his or her lifetime than the average high school graduate.

Online degree programs are generally more flexible than traditional programs. You can learn at your own pace and take courses at any time of day.

Online college degrees are not for everyone.

Earning a degree online or the traditional way requires a significant commitment of time and money. Online studies are best suited for students with organized and dedicated personalities.The best students are those who are able to set aside study time each day and balance their studies with family and work responsibilities. They should be self-motivated, able to work independently and be comfortable with deadlines. Because most online programs are reading and writing focused, the student should have advanced research skills, be articulate, and have the ability to comprehend dense and specialized texts. He also has to be able to write at a college level: most online graduate programs award grades based on writing assignments and written exams.

Before enrolling in an online program, ask yourself two questions: “Why do I want to earn this degree?” and “Will earning the degree actually help me to achieve that goal?” Do you want to earn the degree to make more money, qualify for a new job, or simply for the learning opportunity?

Although most jobs requiring a degree offer a decent salary and a certain amount of prestige, keep in mind that earning a degree online may not automatically improve your salary. If you're contemplating the possibility of earning a degree online, research your future employment options to determine whether a degree will be worth it. Earning an online college degree requires a considerable investment of time and money – make sure that the payoff is worth it!

Are you up to the challenge? If so, it's time to take the first step...

Step 1: Browse

Surf the internet to get a feel of what to expect. Click college ads or use search engines to find those colleges that seem to put an emphasis on their online program. Look at what they offer : virtual classrooms or similar integrated interfaces, course-related forums / chat rooms, online lecture notes, multimedia pedagogical material, ... The goal here is to get an idea of what one can expect from an online college in terms of infrastructure.

Step 2 : Choose your online program

There are various types of online programs. As the job market demand for skilled employees increase, more employers are accepting and recognizing the degrees earned through online study these days, and more and more universities are opening their degree programs online; they now cover nearly every subject taught in a traditional, face-to-face learning environment.

Research the area of study you're interested in and pick the adequate level for your degree: Certificate, Associate, Bachelor, Masters, Doctorate Degree.

Two of the most sought after college degrees are the Bachelor’s and the Associate’s Degree, both of which carries their own usefulness and prestige that will vary from profession to profession. Both are unique in their requirements for completion and only one or the other might be applicable to your needs, depending on your profession of choice. It is important to distinguish between the two before committing yourself to pursuing either an Associate's Degree or a Bachelor's Degree.

Associate's Degree

An Associate's Degree emphasizes studies in more general or practical, hands-on professions and is generally offered at Junior/Community Colleges. An Associate Degree program will require that you complete at least 60 credits of course work, which can be scheduled over a 2 year period. An Associate Degree program can be specialized to emphasize specific career or educational needs. For this reason, the Associate Degree program is often obtained prior to transferring to a Bachelor’s Degree program. In fact, the courses you take as an Associate Degree student can serve as building blocks and transferable credits to pursue the more advanced and more specialized Bachelor’s Degree.

Bachelor's Degree

A Bachelor’s Degree emphasizes instruction in much more specific and intense areas of study and is offered at 4-year Colleges and Universities. A Bachelor Degree program will require that you complete at least 120 credits of course work, which can be scheduled over a 4 year period. Of course, if you have already earned your Associate Degree in liberal arts or in a field of study that is closely related to your chosen Bachelor Degree program, then you have, essentially, earned half of your Bachelor Degree credit requirements and will be responsible for earning only the remaining credits.

It is important to plan your education carefully. If a 4-year college and a Bachelor’s Degree program do not suit your needs at this point-in-time, but you are actively pursuing enrollment in an academic program, it is suggested that you plan accordingly for future academic goals. Enrollment in an Associate Degree program now will pave the road to a Bachelor’s Degree later.

Step 3: Look for accredited schools

Accreditation is the most important factor to consider when selecting a school. You only want to look for online accredited colleges. Don’t spent thousands of dollars on a “diploma mill” degree that won’t be accepted in academia or in the workplace. If you want your degree to be recognized by employers and other colleges, make sure that the online college you choose is accredited by the appropriate regional board.

Alternatively, you may choose to enroll in a college accredited by the Distance Education Training Counsil. Although degrees from DETC accredited colleges are accepted by a large number of employers, it is not always possible to transfer these credits to other colleges.

You can determine whether or not a school is accredited by visiting the Department of Education's website.

Step 4 : Find which schools are strong in your chosen field

Online colleges vary in the courses that they specialize in. Some may be strong in business while education may be the specialty of another. By doing your research and making sure that your degree program is one of their strong suits you will be saving yourself a lot of grief. Once you do find an online college that specializes in your degree preference, make sure that the course being taught is focusing on what is currently relevant in the field. If you do choose an out of state online university be aware that some licenses or certificates are only valid in the state in which you completed the degree.

Step 5 : Compare

Online College Testing

Almost all online colleges require students to complete course exams. But, each program will have its own testing requirements. Some mandate that students take all exams at a proctored testing center. Others allow most tests to be completed online, with open-book exams. When comparing online colleges, consider how you prefer to take your exams. If proctored exams are required, don’t forget to factor in your proximity to testing centers or to the school’s brick-and-mortar campus.

Online Admission Requirements

There is a huge variation in online college admissions requirements. Some colleges have a lengthy application process including essays, recommendation letters, and interviews. Other colleges accept all applicants and allow students to begin courses within a week. Compare schools based on your ability to meet admissions requirements and your desired start date.

How much is tuition? Are there any additional fees or hidden costs?

Your tuition should be comparable to that of regular universities, perhaps slightly less. Make sure that you won’t be overcharged or stuck with mandatory fees.

How long does it take to complete the program?

Some online schools offer students the chance to complete a degree in less time. Some students are even able to finish a whole year early.

What curriculum is used? Will I need to purchase textbooks?

If you are required to purchase textbooks, determine what their average cost is. Books can be expensive, and may cost hundreds of dollars per course. If you are an auditory or kinetic learner (learn best by hearing and doing, rather than by reading alone), finding a school that offers a multimedia element in their curriculum may help you master the material.

What if I need extra help? How will I communicate with the school? Is it all online or is there a phone number I can call for help?

Having a number to call or an actual location you can go to can be very helpful when you need help or are looking for answers. Most legitimate schools will give you a number you can use to reach them.

Your own Preferences

In addition to considering the above factors, make your own list of preferences. This can then be used as a list of questions to ask potential schools to help you make a smart decision.

Tim Bolton, Ph.D. student, Clinical Psychology - Walden University

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