10 Questions to Ask Before Selecting an Online University

(U.S. Army/Sgt. 1st Class Gary A. Witte)

For many active military members and their spouses, earning an online degree is becoming increasingly attractive. The flexibility and convenience of online universities allow those juggling work and family responsibilities to advance their education without putting their lives on hold. Finding a reputable, accredited online university that offers a program that meets your needs requires doing some homework. Here are ten questions you need to ask before you choose a school.

  1. Does the school offer the degree program you need to advance your education and career?
    If you’re considering a teaching or nursing degree, will it prepare you to be licensed?  Is there a master’s degree program that will help you progress in your profession?
  2. Are the programs challenging and rigorous enough?
    Going to college requires a significant investment of time and money, be sure to find out all you can about the coursework, quality of resources, and degree requirements. Easy isn’t a good thing in this instance—you want to know that you’ve successfully completed a demanding program that prepares you for success.
  3. Is the school accredited?
    Online universities should have regional accreditation, just like campus-based institutions. A good online school may also have national accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC), and individual degree programs like Education and Nursing should also be accredited by bodies such as the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) and by the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).
  4. Are employers willing to hire graduates of this online university?
    Ask the enrollment staff at the university you’re considering to share feedback (surveys, placement statistics, etc.) from employers who’ve hired their grads.
  5. How does the degree program work, what is the learning process?
    Be sure you understand how you’ll be expected to study, learn, and complete tests and assignments. Online universities use several different academic models:
    • Traditional college courses – led by instructors – are delivered online, requiring students to attend at set times. School terms are generally divided into traditional semesters, and students may only start work at the beginning of these terms. Students earn credit for time spent in class and completion of assignments and tests.
    • Competency-based programs provide students with learning resources in degree subject matter, allowing students to study and learn on their own schedules, advancing as they demonstrate content mastery.
    • Combined online/traditional programs, which require students to attend class both online and in person, are also available.
  6. How much will it cost?
    Some online universities charge tuition rates twice as high as those of a public institution. While almost all offer financial aid, make sure to choose wisely to avoid incurring unnecessary debt. Students who wish to accelerate their degree programs should look for schools with programs that allow acceleration—this can help save overall costs. And, ask if the university offers scholarships.
  7. What type of help and support does the school offer its enrolled students?
    Because the student won’t be on campus in most instances, it is important to make sure that the school provides the necessary support. Ask if each student is assigned an advisor or mentor, how often the student will be able to communicate with an advisor, and who will be available to provide extra support if needed? Is there an online student community? Are online study groups available?
  8. What kind of time commitment will the program demand?
    Going to school online demands that you study independently and motivate yourself to complete your studies, so make sure you’re ready to put in the time and effort needed to be successful. Getting a college degree isn’t meant to be easy, so be prepared for hard work.
  9. Does the degree program you’re considering include relevant certifications, or does it prepare you for licensure?
    In some fields, particularly IT, certifications can be almost more important that a degree. And, if you are considering Education or Nursing, you’ll want to make sure that your investment will lead you toward licensure. Be sure to find out if the university you’re considering offers key certifications if the career you’ve chosen requires licensure.
  10. Does the university offer support for alumni?
    Like traditional universities, the best online schools offer support for alumni, with networking and career counseling. It’s worth checking before you choose—having that kind of support after you graduate can help you advance in your career, get advice and stay connected.

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