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Finding the Best Online College for You

A common misconception about online colleges is that they're all the same. However, online colleges differ in many ways, including educational platforms, interactive features, programs offered, tuition costs, and the amount of time it takes to complete each course. Because each online college is different, you shouldn't just blindly pick one out of a hat. This article will go over what you should look for to find the best online college for you.

Accreditation

When searching for an online college, you want to make sure the education you're going to receive is of high quality. One way to do this is to check the accreditation status of the school and the program that you are considering. According to the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), there are four main roles that are carried out by accreditation:

You can check the accreditation status of an online college by searching the databases provided by CHEA and the U.S. Department of Education.

Programs Offered

Whatever career plans you have, you will most likely be able to find a program that can help you get there. There are countless programs that are being offered by online colleges, from business administration, nursing, and architecture to graphic design, journalism, and computer programming. However, each online college only offers certain programs and awards certain degree levels. For example, let's say you want to earn a bachelor's degree in graphic design. Unfortunately, while a great deal of online schools will have that specific program available, not all online colleges will have it. Also, some colleges that do have a graphic design program may not offer it at the bachelor's degree level, so you want to make sure the school you are considering offers the exact program and degree you want to pursue before enrolling.

Reputation

Public knowledge and opinion of the online college you earn your degree from can have a direct effect on your career. Employers are going to be more inclined to hire individuals who have a degree from an online college that is recognized for offering a high-quality education and for producing graduates who are knowledgeable and prepared for the workplace. Likewise, employers may shy away from an applicant who earned a degree from an online school that has a less-than-stellar reputation. Therefore, we recommend researching your school of choice to see what they're known for and what the general public thinks of them when determining what school you should attend.

Teaching Methods

Teaching methods can be different at each online college. This can include the types of assignments, the learning platform, and interactivity with students and teachers. Some online colleges rely heavily on written assignments, such as essays, reports, and research papers, while some rely more on quizzes and exams. Still, some other online colleges may blend all of these types of assignments together. With this in mind, ask academic advisors, instructors, and current and past students at each school you're interested in to see what types of assignments you'll likely be doing so you'll know what to expect.

You may also want to inquire about the learning platform your school of choice utilizes. Many schools use popular e-learning platforms such as Blackboard or Moodle, while some develop their own platforms. Each platform has certain qualities, features, and styles, so it could be useful to find out what kind of platform is being used by the school you are considering, and then see if you can go through a demo of it to see if it suits your learning habits.

In addition, there are multiple ways in which students and faculty interact at online colleges. Some schools use a text-based forum combined with email, while other schools have live chat sessions or live video lectures and discussions. Some schools may even require you to periodically travel to their campus and attend in-person lectures, classes, and workshops. We recommend finding out what kind of interactivity is used by the school you are considering and determining if it's a good fit for you.

Course Length

Online colleges often require students to take back-to-back classes, one at a time, year-round. This is designed to keep working individuals from becoming overwhelmed with course work from multiple classes, while still allowing them to earn a degree in a time frame that is comparable to a traditional college in most cases. However, the amount of time it takes to complete each course can vary between schools. Some may have five-week classes which will require you to work at a pretty fast pace, while others may have eight-week classes, but it may take a little longer to complete the program and earn your degree. We recommend taking this into account when considering an online college and determining whether you feel like you can handle the workload in the amount of time the college requires.

Faculty Credentials

Much of what you learn will depend on who is teaching you. Most online colleges provide profiles of their teaching staff that will tell you a little bit about them, such as what type of degree(s) they have, where they went to school, how long they have been teaching, and what kind of experience they have in the field. Many schools also provide comments and reviews that students have made about the teachers they have had, which will give you information about the teachers from a student's perspective. We recommend reading about the teaching staff and making your own judgment as to whether or not you feel like they are qualified to teach you.

Student Success Rate

If an online college has a large percentage of their graduates successfully completing programs and entering into the workforce, they are going to be proud of it and provide the information on their website. Essentially, a high student success rate shows that employers are hiring graduates from this particular school. A number of schools even have a section dedicated to student success stories in which alumni write about their experiences with the online college and the success they have had after earning their degree.

In addition, most online colleges have job placement programs that are designed to help graduates transition into a career. These programs can include resume tips, advice, and writing services, interview techniques, and direct help from professionals who will help you find a job.

Tuition

Much like with everything else that has been discussed in this article, the cost of tuition is also going to be different for each online college. Most schools charge for each credit you earn. Therefore, your total cost will depend on how many credits you need to earn your degree. This can vary depending on multiple factors, such as how many credits you are transferring from another school, whether or not you have to take remedial classes, and the specific degree you're earning. Keep in mind that the cost associated with an online college is not necessarily a reflection of the quality of the school's education. Also, federal financial aid will be available at accredited online colleges, and many colleges have other financial aid options that you can apply for if you need it, further varying your potential tuition costs.