Online degree programs are becoming a more and more popular option for students at every level. While there’s still a lot to be said for getting the full college experience, especially for students who are fresh out of high school, online degree programs provide a lot of benefits, particularly for students who might struggle to attend classes on-campus or want to save money while getting their degree. Online degree programs have been in the news a lot more often recently with an increasing number of students having moved their education online in response to the COVID19 pandemic, with campuses around the world closing down and distance learning put in place to encourage social distancing and health and safety. However, even without a global pandemic, online study has many practical applications.
Students of all ages and at all educational levels can benefit from getting an online degree. Some online degrees offer lower tuition fees while all online students can usually benefit financially from being able to fit studying around working more hours or reducing the cost of relocating or commenting to campus. In addition, online study can be an ideal choice for those with mental or physical health problems or disabilities that might make getting to and navigating the college campus a more difficult experience compared to others.
For the most part, an online degree program is going to be just as credible and worth just as much as the on-campus alternative. Whether you get your degree in person on campus or studying online from the comfort of your own home does not usually matter in terms of the weight of the qualification and the type of careers that you can use it to get into in the future. However, as with anything online, scams exist so it’s important to do your due diligence and research to make sure that you’re not wasting your time and money with your choice of online degree.
Whether you want to get your bachelor’s, master’s, or even a doctorate online, knowing what to look out for and how to check if an online degree is a credible qualification from a credible school, university or college is an important step in the process. Read on to find out more about what to look out for when choosing the right online degree program for you.
The main thing to look out for before you enroll in an online degree program is credibility. One of the first things to confirm is that the college the course is supposedly offered by actually exists. Bear in mind that there are now some fully online universities and schools such as St. Bonaventure University Online that are completely credible and authentic, so don’t panic if you can’t find a physical campus – it may simply be that they do not need one. However, for the most part, online degree programs are offered by colleges that have been operating since before online learning became a thing.
If you are interested in a certain program, do some research into the college before you decide if it’s the right program for you. Where is the college located? Has anybody notable studied there? Have you heard of this college before you learned about the online program? What are the ratings like? If you can attend, do they offer open days or virtual open days that prospective online students can go to and learn more about what to expect from studying there?
Access to College Resources:
Many online degree programs are now offered by established colleges and universities that also operate a campus. As an online student, you should be treated just the same way as any other student at the school, including the level of access to the resources that are available. Of course, this might be different if you are taking a free course offered by the college, but there shouldn’t be limits on what you can access in terms of libraries and online information portals when you are studying for a full undergraduate or graduate degree online and paying tuition. Check that you will be able to access electronic libraries and online course materials while you are a student. If you’re studying online but live close enough to the campus, check if you will be able to access the campus library and other resource facilities in person.
Interactivity and Engagement With Students:
The level of engagement and interaction that you will want with faculty and teaching staff will largely depend on you. Some online degree programs are very interactive and tend to operate in a similar way to an on-campus course, with the only difference being that you are studying from home. If you like the idea of studying from home but want video lectures with other students at set times and the option to interact with your tutors and professors with virtual live classes and presentations, it is important to check that the course you’re considering will offer this. Since one of the main benefits of online study is the flexibility, many offer lesser interaction in this way, but professors and tutors will still be on hand to provide advice, support, and guidance when offered.
How flexible is the program that you are considering? If you’re choosing to study online due to needing an option that you can work around other commitments such as working full-time or raising kids, then chances are that you will need a fully-flexible option that allows you to decide the best times to study based on your needs.
Before you enroll in the program, check what you are going to be committing to. Some programs, such as science and healthcare-related programs, will offer flexible lectures and classes that you can choose to attend online at your leisure but will require you to be present in-person for labs and clinical placements at certain days and times, so be sure that this is going to be something that you can fit around your commitments if it is required from the degree program that you are considering. It is also worth bearing in mind that all online programs will usually have deadlines and exam dates that are required for you to attend without any flexibility on when you do these, although there’s always the option to get coursework and papers finished earlier if you need to.
Researching the program content is another important step to take before you make any final decisions on what or where you are going to be studying online. Before you make a commitment to the course, spend some time looking over the curriculum and familiarizing yourself with what’s offered – not only might you need this information to stand out in the application process, but you might be surprised to find out how much online programs can differ depending on where they are offered. Make sure that you understand the different modules that you’ll be enrolled in and the type of content that you are going to be learning about, and ensure that it’s the right fit for your future education and career goals. You will usually be able to find out more about this on the website or the course page for the program that you are interested in, and you can always get in touch with the college directly to request further information if needed. Some programs also offer taster sessions or free trials where you can sign up to look around and determine if it’s going to be the right fit for you.
Networking and Socializing:
While the idea of studying online and from home might seem quite isolating, most good online colleges and degree program coordinators will try and make up for this by giving online students as much chance as possible to socialize with and get to know their peers.
Building your professional network can often be just as important as the subject that you are studying when you’re getting a degree at any level, and many prospective online students will worry about the idea of missing out on this since they are not taking part in campus-based classes where they get to meet and spend time getting to know other students in person.
If networking and meeting other students is something that is going to be important to you as an online student, then it’s a wise idea to familiarize yourself with the options that are on offer, whether they’re formally arranged by the college, informal arrangements amongst the students, or a combination of both. Many online degree programs offer regular meetups in different areas to give students a chance to meet in person along with online chat rooms, social media groups, Discord groups, video conferencing, group chats, and more.
While some prospective online students might be set on a program that they want to study, which will drive their decision of the online college to attend, others may not be sure and are open to options as long as they are getting their degree from a credible and reputable institution.
One of the main benefits of studying for a degree online is that colleges that offer online and distance learning do tend to offer a wide variety of programs in various subject areas. While this can sometimes be limited compared to the number and type of programs available to study on-campus, there’s usually a diverse range of options to choose from with something to suit students who are interested in various careers.
If you have a shortlist of online colleges in mind that you would consider attending, spend some time checking out the courses that they offer and dive deeper into what’s available from the ones that you are interested in the most. For example, check if they offer elective modules that you can study to pursue a specific area or specialty, or whether the subject you are interested in is available at advanced levels if you’re considering the idea of returning to the same college to further your education in the future.
Fees and Funding Options:
In some cases, an online degree program might be cheaper than an on-campus program because the college is based solely online and does not have the same overheads to cover. However, for the most part, you can expect to pay the same tuition regardless of the type of course you enroll in.
Spend some time checking out the options that are available to students when it comes to paying for tuition. There should be a variety of options available including paying with grants and scholarships, financial aid packages, student loans, or self-funding. If you are planning to self-fund your degree, find out if flexible payment options are offered or if you will be expected to foot the entire bill at the beginning of the semester since this might impact the decision that you make depending on your financial situation.
New Student Onboarding:
Online learning has a lot of benefits for students, but since online students can often be miles away from the campus and only able to learn and communicate through digital channels, it can sometimes have more challenges. Because of this, it’s worth looking for a college and a degree program that understands these challenges and addresses them throughout the process of onboarding new students. Find out what the college offers as you begin your program to support you in settling in, finding your way around the online learning platform, and getting to know other students on your program and others.
If your main aim for getting an online degree is to get into a certain career or improve your current career, it’s worth finding out what kind of career support the college offers before you enroll. The good news is that many online degree programs are highly career-focused since the nature of the education means that it often attracts mature students and career changers. Find out more about the type of career advice and support offered and if it’s the type of service you will be looking for as you work towards your career goals.
While online degree programs are growing in popularity, not all of them are created equally. Keep these factors in mind while researching online degree programs to find one that’s a good fit for you and your goals.