For Teachers...How to Choose an Online Graduate Program
The online graduate degree business has exploded. Express interest or ask for information, and you will most likely be bombarded with calls and emails. I was getting personal emails, work emails, personal phone calls, and cellphone calls from about eight different schools. Once you start looking around, the choices become overwhelming. The following are the five ways to start narrowing down the possibilities and find the best fit.
What is your status in regards to graduate school?
Discounts with Professional Organizations – An efficient first step is to check with your state, national, and subject matter affiliations for discounts to certain schools. The bonus of this is that the affiliations have already done groundwork for you, and found the school reputable enough to encourage your enrollment there. Many times you can get the application fee waived, plus a certain percent off of tuition.
Emphasis – Then, you need to find a program that emphasizes the specialty that you are looking for. I chose a relatively new field called “teacher leadership.” This is not educational leadership, which usually leads to being an educational officer such as a vice-principal or principal. It is becoming a teacher-leader, from within the classroom or in a capacity of working with teachers. There are also specialists in curriculum and instruction, all of the core subject areas, specialty areas such as reading, technology, special education, and more. Since there were relatively few programs called teacher leadership, I ended up choosing a M.S. In Education with a specialization in Teacher Leadership.
Price – Next, you need to start comparing prices. Eliminate any schools that charge you out of state tuition, there is no need for that in this online day and age. There are both for profit and non-profit universities, and that makes a difference. There are flat-rate and per-credit approaches. Also, look at other fees such as tech fees and whether books and materials are included or not. Then, approximate how long it will take you to get through the program, and whether the school gives you opportunities to accelerate at a faster rate for a lower overall cost. Also, most schools take federal financial aid, but some do not. This is important, as financial aid is available to most people and there are various programs that forgive federal loans for certain requirements, such as working at Title One schools.
Credits – If you have taken any college courses, done professional development, or attained National Board Certification, check into programs that will give you credits for your work. This will reduce the overall time in the program, and therefore the cost.
Responsiveness - Finally, there is responsiveness and customer service. At one school that I was seriously interested in, the instructions clearly said to contact the enrollment counselor assigned to me and leave a time that she could contact me. I did, several times, but she never called at that time. She called later in the day while I was at work and unable to talk to her. When I did finally talk to her, she did not offer much information. The school that I ended up attending was a little more expensive, but the enrollment counselor sent me helpful links, told me how to go about financing, and followed up in an efficient yet not overbearing way.
Personally, graduate school was a decision that I made after getting “staff reduced” at the school where I worked. Being highly qualified had nothing to do with it, it was purely based on department and years of service with the state. At that point though, I decided that I would not want to be passed up for another career opportunity based on the fact that I did not have a masters degree. Plus, I am a lifelong learner. You must be too, if you are also a teacher looking into graduate schools. Good Luck!