Previous generations scoffed at the idea of earning an online degree. They believed the only way to get a quality education was by attending a traditional college. Of course, back then, technology wasn’t available to easily learn online. Also, up until the earlier part of this century, most people didn’t take online college degrees seriously.

Times have changed. As you well know, technology has made vast leaps and bounds making online learning accessible to just about anyone. In addition, online degree programs are now a respected competitor to traditional colleges. In fact, many leading colleges offer online degree programs as part of their curriculum.

Still, you may be a little reluctant to try an online degree program. Will you get the support needed when your classes are difficult? Will employers favor those with more traditional college educations? How will you know if the online degree program you enroll in is reputable?

These are all valid questions. After all, investing in your education can be expensive. You don’t want your money to go to waste with some throwaway degree from a substandard program. Use this guide to online degrees as a resource to help you get started.

What is an Online Degree Program?

Simply put, an online degree program is when you receive and education from a different location of your instructor. Instead of attending lectures, labs, and exams at a set location, you are doing this remotely using the internet. Your instructor is still an expert in the field and you often have classmates to interact with in your virtual classroom.

Of course, the way you communicate is very different from traditional colleges. While you still listen to lectures, view presentations, and engage in discussions, it is completely online. You have access to your instructor via email, chat, or video messaging. In addition, you can communicate and collaborate with other students via chat or discussion boards. So when your classes get difficult, you can get questions answered with just a few keystrokes.

Instead of sitting in a classroom, you have the ability to study and learn just about anywhere you have an internet connection. In addition, some online degree programs allow you to learn at your own pace when your schedule allows. This is a great option for adult students or those balancing work and family responsibilities.

While some online degree programs are exclusively online, others require at least some face to face interaction. For example, those in health care, like nursing or physical therapy students, may have to do practical or clinical experiences to fulfill degree requirements.

Why Choose an Online Degree Program?

Online degree programs offer several advantages over a traditional college education including:

  • Lower costs: Since you are not paying for room and board, cafeteria food, and all the other extra costs of a traditional college, your degree can cost significantly less.
  • Learn at your pace: Some college courses allow you to absorb the information at your own pace. There may be specific deadlines, but the amount of time you need to complete each section is up to you and your learning style.
  • More opportunities: Have you scoped out a college in your area only to find out it didn’t offer the degree program you wanted? With online degrees, it’s much easier to find the program you want without worrying about the commute.
  • More compatible with your schedule: Self-directed courses allow you to learn when it is most convenient for you. For example, how many traditional colleges offer midnight classes to self-proclaimed night owls? Need to learn after the kids are in bed? Studying online makes it possible.

What to Consider When Choosing an Online Degree Program

A college degree is an investment in your future. As with any investment, it will require money upfront. You want to make sure your money is going to good use. With online degree programs sprouting up all over the internet, how can you be assured you are making the right decision? Here are some things to look for:

Accreditation

First and foremost, you want to make sure the online degree program is legitimate. You don’t want to waste your time and money for a piece of paper that doesn’t mean anything. So how can you assure your online degree will mean anything? It’s not as hard as you think.

Make sure the online degree program is accredited either nationally or regionally. Accreditation means a third party has reviewed the academic experience and deemed it a legitimate program. If your online degree is not accredited, employers or graduate admissions counselors may not even consider you a potential candidate no matter how hard you worked for it.

How do you find out if an online program is accredited? One simple way is to visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) website. 

Financial Aid

While the costs of online degrees can be significantly less than traditional college, some individuals may still need help paying for their education. Find out if your online degree program offers scholarships, grants, payment plans, or work-study options.

In addition, consider filling out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application to see what kind of student loans you can get from the government. These loans typically have lower interest rates than traditional loans and are much cheaper than funding your education on a credit card.

Courses Offered

Some online colleges offer their services on a supply and demand basis. If students aren’t signing up for a particular course, the college may temporarily drop the course from their curriculum. This can put a big pothole in your road to graduation. Before enrolling in any program, make sure the courses you need are available. In addition, check to see if the courses are exclusively online or if you will have to visit the campus periodically.

Graduation Rate

You will want to know if others successfully completed the online degree and found jobs in their chosen profession. A low graduation rate could mean the school doesn’t give students the support they need to succeed. In addition, check if the online degree program offers job placement assistance or other services to help you find work after completing the degree.

Ready to Find an Online Degree Program?

If you made it this far, congratulations. It shows you are committed to discovering how an online degree program can help you. Consider this: according to a research study, those with a college degree earn (on average) $17,500 more than those without college diplomas. Of course, this number can be much higher depending on your career choice.

And what about getting a job? An online degree is no longer considered the future of education. Many employers regard an online degree just as highly as a traditional one–of course, make sure the degree is accredited.

Get started paving the way for a brighter future. Find out what online degree programs can change your life.