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What to Look for When Choosing an Online College

Updated on January 6, 2013
Online College Student
Online College Student

How to Select a School

Selecting an online college is a difficult task and one that you should not take lightly. Getting an undergraduate degree is an important first step in training for a satisfying career. Many students are now turning to distance learning degree programs to complete their undergraduate and even their graduate degrees.

Online programs have grown in popularity for a number of reasons including flexible schedules, programs you can customize to your personal career goals, convenient delivery of coursework and learning materials, and the ability to comfortably live off campus.

When considering a program, it is important to remember that not all colleges offer the same quality. Selecting the right college is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. Below you see some of the key factors to consider when comparing different schools.


Once you decide to enroll in a distance learning program, be sure that you are 100% certain your degree will hold up to the same standards as a traditional university. Start by verifying that the school you are considering has the proper accreditation. Accreditation is essentially an independent review by a certified third-party to make sure that certain standards of educational excellence are being met or exceeded.

One reason accreditation is important is that it determines an educational institution's eligibility to participate in federal financial aid programs. All of the schools listed on this website offer accredited programs however, that does not necessarily apply to all programs that you may come across on the Internet. The following is a list of some of the well-know agencies offering college accreditation:

The Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools

The New England Association of Schools & Colleges

The North Central Association of Colleges and Schools

The Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges

The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Distance Education & Training Council

These are all excellent resources you can reference if you are concerned about the legitimacy of a particular school or program. When in doubt, check it out!

Degree Offerings

Be sure that the school you are considering has a program offering and scheduling availability that meets your needs. This may seem to go without saying but often times you will find that the schools offer different degrees in different geographic locations and that on-campus options differ significantly from online program offerings.

Be sure to also consider any plans you may have to move on and advance your education beyond your first degree as well. Unless you have a good reason to transfer to another institution, it is almost always a good idea to select a school that will allow you to complete your entire course of study so you don't have to take the time to learn a new system and adapt midway through your coursework.

Class Scheduling

The two biggest advantages to an online education are convenience and flexibility. Working from the comfort of home and scheduling classes around busy daily schedules are perks that you do not get when attending a traditional campus-based college. The life of today's college student looks much different from the way it did 10 or 15 years ago. Full-time jobs and family responsibilities are an everyday reality for many students and a distance learning program can offer an educational opportunity that might not otherwise exist. Many people fail to look deeper at this issue and it can end up being the difference between success and failure.

Here are some important considerations:

  1. Does the school require classroom time in addition to online studies?
  2. Are course materials accessible at all times or are they delivered live via chat, video conferencing, or online meetings that require a set schedule?
  3. Can class work be completed at your convenience or are there certain deadlines that dictate the timeline for all coursework completion?
  4. Does your program work according to standard semesters or can you begin when the time is right for you?

Be sure to take the time to carefully evaluate each of the scenarios above and make sure that all of your questions are answered before you register for classes.

Costs and Tuition

While the Internet has largely driven down the cost of education, that is not always the case with private colleges and universities. For most students, the most important consideration is whether or not the financial aid programs offered are sufficient to cover educational expenses while in school.

The increased stress of having to come up with out-of-pocket funds while in school can make it extremely difficult to give your full attention to getting the most out of your educational experience. Take the time to consult with financial aid representatives from the schools you are considering and do not be afraid to compare prices when evaluating otherwise similar programs.

When considering cost, be sure to research the school's reputation as well as the technology and resources that they offer their students. Cheaper is not always better! In addition to federal government student loan availability, ask your advisor about scholarships and work-study programs the school offers. These can definitely contribute to funding the total cost of your education along with giving you valuable experience along the way.

Deciding on a College

Start by requesting a free information package from any of the online colleges that interest you. Almost every school is willing to offer this and if they are not, that could be a sign that you may want to look elsewhere. Once you have gathered up all the information you need, carefully compare the top programs that interest you and narrow your choices down to two or three favorites.

Next, make a list of the things that are most important to you in your pursuit of an education and check that list against the offerings of each school you are considering. After you have made your decision, take the time to speak with a few other students enrolled in their program just to make sure you have made a good choice. You will quickly find that your efforts will pay you back in the form of a rewarding degree program that will prepare you for a satisfying career.

What do you feel is most important in choosing an online college?

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    • diggle profile image

      MD. ARIF HOSSAIN 3 years ago from DHAKA,BANGLADESH

      Great article, It will help students who are looking for online education platform...All the best

    • ecamper23 profile image

      ecamper23 6 years ago

      Great hub! Plenty of beginners are stumped when it comes to online education.

    • cmellon86 profile image

      cmellon86 6 years ago

      Thank you for the hub! It really helps me narrow down schools.

    • marilnelanoon233 profile image

      marilnelanoon233 6 years ago

      The first thing I look for is accreditation, then degree programs offered.

    • bdouble28 profile image

      bdouble28 6 years ago

      Great starting point for beginners! Do you know which degree programs are typically offered online?

    • katrinasui profile image

      katrinasui 7 years ago

      A very useful hub for students. Thanks for taking out time to write such a useful hub.

    • Silver Poet profile image

      Silver Poet 8 years ago from the computer of a midwestern American writer

      Very good hub. It is important that we look at things like accreditation so we will not be wasting our time and money.

    • prasetio30 profile image

      prasetio30 8 years ago from malang-indonesia

      Education is important for us. We should to know this information. And online is the best choice to get some degree, like you said above. Thank you very much. I rate this up!