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The Virtual World of Education-Tips for Choosing the Right Online College or University

Updated on December 11, 2011

Why Online Education

With the job market changing daily one of the best things you can do to ensure you land a good job is to return to school. Many workers have been displaced in today's economy and have had to retrain for new careers.

The thought of stepping foot on a college campus is extremely daunting to many adult students. Adult students often fear that they will be out of place on campus so this can be a huge deterrent to the adult student who wants to change their career path.

The golden days of students with parents who foot the bill and made it possible for them to attend 4 years, or more, of college without jobs are not the norm. Adult and traditional students are finding that they need to work a 40 hour week and attend school full or part time. Add to that family obligations and we see that the model of the traditional on-campus student just doesn't fit in the mix like it had in the past.

Students today come from all age groups and walks of life. They have families, jobs and financial concerns. The student of the future is a savvy consumer and is looking for the best value in education. With limited time and limited budgets the student consumer has spurred the success of the online education environment.

Online education used to be seen, by some, as a lesser form of education. The stigma of online education has lessened over the years and now we find many of the top rated Universities offer completely online programs.

How to choose the right online program

There are many factors that should be explored when deciding which online program is right for your needs. As previously mentioned, students have become savvy consumers and colleges and Universities know that this new breed of student is looking, not just at the name and reputation of a school, but the value they get for their education dollar.

I don't want to imply that a school's reputation should not be high on the list of priorities, actually quite the opposite. It's extremely important that you look at credible schools with a history of well educated students and respected faculty. Students need to look at this very closely, but what's new to the mix is weighing reputation with the cost to attend.

There are a wide range in costs to attend colleges and Universities. This gap widens even further when looking at 2 and 4 year colleges and Universities. Many students opt to take 2 years at a community college, about half the cost of the first 2 years at a 4 year University, and then transfer their 2 year degree to the 4 year University. Yes you can do this and come out with a 2 year degree and a 4 year degree from the University of your choice.

Cost and quality are just two of the factors to consider when choosing an online program. The third and one of utmost importance is to choose a college or University that is accredited. If you don't you will find yourself with useless degree.

Accreditation is a process which ensures the integrity of degree program. Individual programs are accredited, rather than the University as a whole. The accreditation process is lengthy and all aspects of the program must pass review before a program is accredited. This process ensures accreditation for a specific number of years and at the end of that time the program will have to pass another accreditation process.

Take a look at job openings in your are of interest and you'll soon notice that employers ask for an 'accredited' degree in the field. A degree without accreditation will catch the eye of an employer quickly and be out of the running.


Private, Public or For-profit Online University?

Just a few years ago, it was difficult to find a good online program. Well times have changed and there is a wide range of online degrees being offered. Probably the first ones that come to mind are the big for-profit Universities.

University of Phoenix is one of the most well known, but there are many others that have put their hats in the ring. If you are worried about the stigma of an online degree, these might not be the right choice. I do want to stress that the stigma is not what it used to be and these Universities pass the same accreditation process as all the rest. What these Universities offer students is convenience. The enrollment process is less strenuous, they offer classes in 3, 6 and 12 week formats and the classes are well managed. The for profits put a lot of money into creating programs that are designed especially for online students. They employ course designers that ensure that each class has a standard method of delivery and this can be very helpful to anyone who is new to online learning. That said you do pay a price for their well-structured and convenient course delivery and the ability to take more courses in a year than at most other Universities. These Universities, on average, charge a higher price for their courses. Are they a good deal? They can be if what you are looking for is to complete an accredited degree in a short amount of time. Beware though that you will work hard during that time, considering when you take a 3 or 6 week course you will be putting in the same effort and completing as much work as you would an entire semester. You'll need to be prepared to devote a substantial amount of time dependent upon your course load. Most students at these Universities take one to two courses at a time, so that they can keep up with the work load while working and taking care of families.

Public Universities are another choice. More public Universities than ever before are offering entirely online programs and they offer them at a significantly lower cost than those at the for profit Universities. Another difference is that not all a public universities programs are offered online and some offer only a select few courses online, you will have to research a public universities programs and ensure that the one you want is offered online. Most public university courses are offered over an semester. There are a few that offer the 6 and 12 week formats, but that's rare as of yet. Many students are more comfortable seeking out their online degree from well known public universities and want the prestige that comes from a degree without the online stigma. Keep in mind that your degree from any online program does not state that was an online program on your diploma, so employers will not know you took online courses they way they might if your degree comes from one of the recognizeable for-profit Universities. This really shouldn't be a concern because so many colleges and Unviersities have embraced the online environment now.

Private Universities were the last to jump on the online bandwagon, but they are offering more and more online programs. The cost varies for these programs, but almost all are full semester courses. Being the last to join the online revolution can also show more prominently in their course structures. Unlike the for-profits, there are usually no course designers to unsure that they way you found information for one course will be in any way the way you find information for the next one. This is also true of some of the public Universities though not to the same extent.

Reccommendations :

  • For-profits-- for those who need a degree in short amount of time and are willing to pay a little more for the convenience of shorter class formats and ease of navigation
  • Publics --for those who would rather have a more prestigious name on their diploma, like smaller class sizes, longer periods to complete the courses, and have time to check individual programs to see if they are offered online.
  • Privates-- for those who want even smaller class sizes, don't mind that the course structure will vary, and also have the time to check individual programs to see if they are offered online.

Not sure what type of University you want....try all three. Take a course at each type and decide what fits in best with your learning style, budget and timeline. Most college and University courses are transferable so you can simply transfer the credits from the ones you didn't choose to the one you did.

Your experience with online learning

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    • Infiniteresearch profile image

      Infiniteresearch 6 years ago from Ohio

      I'd love to, I've been telling my mom that seniors can take online courses free at any college. You're right they aren't for credit, but for anyone who wanted to go to college and didn't, it's a great way to experience and learn. I remember those first online courses too, oh my have they changed over the years. I took my first online course in the late 90's, went full time starting n 2003 and started teaching online courses in 2006. I have to say the online classes I teach today are so much better organized and offer a much better learning experience for students.

    • The-BestMouseTrap profile image

      Pam Valentine 6 years ago from The Heartland, USA

      I remember the early 90's and a few of the automated classes I took. They were really tele-courses you could watch on the local cable. We also used the computers at the college library if we missed one. I recall attending the actual class once at the beginning of the semester and again at the end for the finals. We were only allowed to to take 1 tele-courses per semester.

      I have been happily taking FREE online college courses at MIT. You cant earn a degree, but being a life long learner, I love it. Maybe you can do a hub on it?

    • Infiniteresearch profile image

      Infiniteresearch 6 years ago from Ohio

      Thanks frogyfish, I attend 3 great schools with online courses. I'll have to do a hub featuring info on those and some other choices as well. Thanks for the idea :-)

    • frogyfish profile image

      frogyfish 6 years ago from Central United States of America

      Well defined tips about choosing the courses wanted. Might like to see more personal recommendations if you have them. Will have to visit your link to the 10 'best' you placed in hub. Thanks!