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How to choose an Online Degree Program


Online Learning Sounds Right For Me! How do I choose a program?

Ready to dig into the details and choose the online college that best fits your needs and circumstances? Trying to choose the best online school for you? Wondering how to select a school online? Since geographic location is not part of the criteria, you literally have thousands of programs and online universities to choose from. However, you can’t depend on name recognition alone. Remember, online degree choices and schools vary in what they offer and how they deliver education. And price is not a reliable indication of an online university’s value. So here is some helpful information to help you choose the best online college for your online degree.


Start with Statistics Track Record

An online university can have glitzy advertising about how easy it is to earn a degree, but its graduation and drop out rates tell the true story. If retention rates are low, it probably means students are not being taught well at that particular online school.



 It has taken years for online universities to learn how to best design courses, train faculty, and serve online students. Quality institutions continuously learn about and develop new methodologies. Some major universities have the name recognition, but do their online programs have the recognition, too? Be sure to choose your online college carefully.


Number of Students in Classes

 In face-to-face classes, you can see how many students the professor has to accommodate. Online universities who have a low student-to-teacher ratio will proudly publicize it. Those who cram online students on a teacher’s roster will keep it quiet.


Standards and Practices

When an online college promotes its standards and best practices for quality online education, there has to be some accountability. Ask about standards the online univerisity has adopted and then check out the organization that awarded them. Diploma mills are quite clever in assigning themselves accreditation and stamps of approval--caution is necessary if you want the best online degree available. You must take care in choosing an online college.


Will This Program Meet Your Needs? Does It Specialize in the Courses You Want?

Some online colleges are strong in business courses, others in engineering. Take the time to research each online degree program thoroughly and make sure it has what you need. Be sure to find out if the courses taught focus on what is currently relevant to that technical field—it won’t help you to graduate without the most up-to-date knowledge. When it comes to licensing or certification, it’s even more critical. If you take courses toward a license or certificate from an out-of-state online university, make sure the degree, license, or certificate is valid in the state in which you will use it. You have to consider all of these details when deciding how to select a school online.


What Is the Policy for Transferring Credits?

Transferring credits between institutions has gotten better since online education has become more accepted. However, not every institution will accept online credits.


What Happens if I Need to Leave a Course Partway Through?

For online students with jobs and families, life sometimes unexpectedly gets in the way of studies and the only way to deal with it is to leave a course. Before enrolling, ask what provisions the online degree program makes if you have to drop a course in the middle. Can you get a refund? What are the policies for readmission?


Does the Online Degree Program Have Services for Students with Disabilities?

A program’s brochures, Web site, and course catalog can give you a lot of information on how the online degree program handles accessibility issues. Some programs have a disabilities coordinator. Ask about policies and accessibility. What kinds of accommodations can students with disabilities expect, such as taking longer to complete tests?


Consider Who Will Teach You: How Do Teachers Respond to Students?

Every teacher has a different teaching style but in online classes, how each teacher teaches is crucial. Student success, in part, depends on the instructor at online universities. Ask questions such as “How long have faculty members taught online?” and “How long does it take to get homework back?” and “Do professors answer e-mail frequently?” If at all possible, view a portion of the online course before deciding to take it. Note the instructor’s writing and teaching style and expectations. Be sure there is a clear plan for content presentation, interactivity, communication, and assessment.


How Are the Teachers Trained to Teach Online?

Find out how much emphasis an online college gives to training since institutions have very different ways to train. For-profit online institutions usually have control over faculty members and can require their training. However, in institutions with a strong tradition of faculty and/or union control, such training may be suggested but not required.


Are Teachers Certified and Experienced in Their Fields?

Some online universities use adjunct faculty members who are practitioners in their fields. For instance, a marketing class in health administration might have the CEO of a health group or a person running the health-care system of a senior center develop and/or teach the class. Students would work with the CEO to develop a proactive marketing plan so that they not only learn information but also use it in real-life situations.


How Is the Curriculum Developed?

Don’t assume that just because a history teacher is a terrific professor in a face-to-face environment that he or she has any idea how to transfer that same course information to online classes. The design of an online course is crucial to student success because the physical cues and interaction of a face-to-face class must be built into the online environment. Well-designed courses combine the talents of faculty and professors, hands-on teachers, graphic designers, instructional designers, programmers, animators, and experts in web programs. All of these components are extremely important in providing successful online learning.


What Does a Well-Designed Course Look Like?

  • Clear organization
  • Clear goals and objectives
  • Thorough instructions for all assignments and other course logistics
  • Instructionally appropriate media (graphics, audio/video, animations, etc.)
  • Opportunities for interaction
  • Activities that encourage students to be active learners o Student resources (library, tutoring, technical support, etc.)
  • Clear content that’s easy to read and aesthetically pleasing

What Does a Poorly Designed Course Look Like?


  • Unclear content organization, unclear navigation
  • Incomplete or wrong information in the syllabus
  • Unclear expectations and learning objectives
  • Incomplete or missing instructions for class participation, homework assignments
  • No clear communication plan
  • Few opportunities for students to interact with other students, instructors, or the course material itself
  • Poor content presentation (typos, errors, text-heavy and difficult-to-read materials, technical problems, etc.)
  • Assistance and/or resources for students are incomplete or missing

Are Student Services Set Up for Online Students?

Since you most likely can’t physically walk into an office to get what you need, services for online students are an essential component to your success and satisfaction. Though you have to be more of a self-advocate than a face-to-face student does, the online degree program you are considering should have someone designated who can help you or point you to someone who can, whether for financial aid, veterans’ affairs, or the library. Look to see how clear and accessible information on the online school’s Web site is for prospective and current students. How responsive is the online degree program adviser to your calls or e-mails? Does the program provide toll-free numbers for assistance?



What You’ll Probably Ask a Student Advisor


Is the degree program totally online?  Students want to confirm if they are required to be on campus for some periods of time during the course.


Is the degree the same? Students want to be sure their diploma doesn’t say something different from diplomas for on-campus students. Occasionally, a campus that is part of a consortium might have a different degree plan.


Do I have to take entrance exams? Students assume that online education is different. Most likely you will need to complete campus admission requirements identical to face-to-face students.


What degrees do you offer? Lots of online students think they should be able to get any degree that is offered for face-to-face students. Because of the use of development resources, not every institution can offer every on-campus degree online.


How do I register? Each online program is different. The information for registering should be on each institution’s website.


How long will it take to get my degree? How long it takes to complete the course work depends on whether the student attends full- or part-time, and on the requirements of the college.


How will I be tested? Students want to know if they will have to take proctored exams and where their grades will come from. This information should be clear in the course information.


Will You Be Able to Get Tutoring and Mentoring Online?

Students who have been out of school for a long time have a learning curve to climb. Writing papers does not come easy. They get discouraged and feel they can’t keep up with the homework. Foreseeing the problems of many new online students, some online program providers contract out online tutoring services in math or English composition. Others have “dial-a-tutors” available in different languages for students.


Does the Library Provide Services for Online Students?

Students on campus spend a lot of time in the library. Digital libraries can be confusing for those not accustomed to them, so quality online programs have librarians dedicated to helping their online students acclimate to their system. What if you are looking for a specific journal? You should be able to get in touch with your institution’s librarian to find it online or have it mailed or delivered to you or a library near you. Faculty members teaching online courses should work with the librarians to make sure the resources needed for their classes are available online.


How Helpful Is the Help Desk and Other Technology Questions

Be sure to research the technical and technology requirements for online students at each online university you are considering. Some programs send enrolled students a CD with free software or provide all the materials needed to download from their Web site. A few require students to buy supplemental software, such as microphones. Your ISP should be able to support being online for long periods of time. You do not want to be halfway through an essay question and get bumped off because you have timed out. Ask if there is a tech fee. It is usually not much, but you will want to know about any extra fees.


Will You Get Tech Support When You Need It?

Online learning programs cannot afford to let students spend hours on the phone trying to fix a software hiccup. Since students tend to do assignments at odd hours, tech support should be available twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.