Facts About Online Degrees

If you're thinking of pursuing an online degree, there are some basic facts you should know first. Online colleges are more popular than ever, growing at a rate of almost 10% annually. There is a wide variety of quality programs out there, both from private and public institutions. There is also a diverse range of styles, schedules and methods of delivery.

In fact, there are now thousands of programs to choose from in the United States. The options can seem overwhelming, but if you break down your criteria it becomes easier to know what you're looking for.

Below are some important facts about online degrees you should keep in mind.

Accredited Online Degrees are Legitimate

Online education used to have a stigma as being of lower quality than traditional college. But a lot has changed, and in a very short time. These days, online degrees are widely recognized by other institutions of higher education and almost all major employers.

But it must be from a school that is properly accredited. Other schools and employers will not recognize a degree from a non-accredited school. Even worse, claiming a fraudulent degree on your resume is a crime in most states.

Make sure your school is properly accredited, preferably by a regional association. Some schools are accredited by the Distance Education and Training Council. Degrees from these schools are recognized by more employers, but you may have trouble transferring credits to other colleges and universities.

If you're still in doubt, go online and verify the accrediting association with the U.S. Department of Education. They publish a list of approved accreditation boards.

In 2008, Congress passed the College Opportunity and Affordability Act, which has helped to regulate the industry. If an online college accepts federal funds, it must verify the identity of all the students it has enrolled. This has cut down on the fraud that used to threaten the reputation of the online education industry.

Online Degrees are Effective

You might think that just because a course is delivered online it is easier or somehow less academically rigorous. The truth is, online programs follow the same guidelines and curriculum as traditional ones. Most students end up with comparable learning experiences.

A major study by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009 concluded, “On average, students in online learning conditions performed modestly better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

Where online students run into trouble is with personal discipline and motivation. In general, an online course is going to offer you more freedom and less structure. Some students thrive in this environment, while others struggle to stay on top of the workload.

Regardless of what kind of student you are, there is most likely an online program out there that fits your needs.

Online Programs Come in All Shapes and Sizes

The range of options in online education is more diverse than in traditional college. Technology allows for classes to be delivered in an increasingly large number of mediums, including multi-media presentations. The real challenge is finding an online program that complements your strengths as a student.

You can take classes that are more hands-off, allowing you to work at your own pace. For some students, this is the ideal environment. Others quickly discover that they rely on the structure and discipline of an organized class. If this sounds like you, look for an online program that has regular deadlines and a consistent schedule.

Are you a visual learner, meaning you absorb information better through images? If so, look for online programs that cater to this style, using more text- and graphic-based techniques. Maybe you are more of an auditory learner, who can listen to a lecture online or through a subscribed podcast. Either way, there are thousands of good choices for either type of student.

Many people think that online colleges only offer low-level degrees, such as associate's degrees or professional certificates. But these days you can enroll online and earn bachelor's and master's degrees as well as PhD's.

Online education used to be the domain of small, private for-profit schools, but these days everyone is in the game. Most major universities, public and private, now offer extensive online programs that are compatible with their traditional degree programs.

Online Education is More Affordable

One of the driving forces behind the explosion in online education is affordability. Most online schools have lower tuition than comparable colleges and universities. You're still paying good money to be trained by an experienced teacher in a specialized field, but you save in so many other areas.

You can earn your degree from home, eliminating extra housing and transportation costs. You will still need to buy textbooks and, in some cases, specialized software. But these costs should be considerably less than in traditional college. Instead, much of your texts will be delivered online and paper-free.

Financial Aid is Available

Many students mistakenly believe that financial aid is not an option in online education. Depending on the school you attend, you may qualify for student loans or even scholarships. Talk to admissions counselors to get an idea of what your school offers. As always, different schools will offer very different financial aid packages.

Not All Fields of Study Work Online

Some fields of study are more popular in online education, such as business, English and computer information technology. Other professions just don't lend themselves very well to the online environment, such as music, auto mechanics and chemistry. These are fields of study where you simply need interaction that isn't possible online. In the case of music, you need to get in a room with other musicians. With auto mechanics and chemistry, you need to see what's under the hood of the car and the microscope, respectively.

As you search for online programs, keep this in mind. If you're pursuing a more interactive program, your options may be limited or you may have to take hybrid courses, which require some physical attendance in classrooms. In some cases, online programs will simply not be available.

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