How to Choose an Online Degree Program

Three Parts:Deciding on a DegreeNarrowing Down Your School ChoicesChecking for Accreditation

An online degree program is a flexible option. You can juggle family, work, and other obligations while you work on your degree. However, before beginning an online program, you should consider a few things such as what program you want to do, which school would best fit your needs, and how the school is accredited.

Part 1
Deciding on a Degree

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    Follow what you love. One way to pick a major is simply to follow your passions. Pick a major doing something you love, no matter what the field. You can do almost any degree program online now, so the world is your oyster.[1]
    • Ask yourself questions like: What did you love studying in high school? What captures your interest now?
    • If you don't know where to begin, try perusing your local library. Pick out books that pique your interest, and use that to help you determine what you love.
    • You can pick a field to study just for the sake of study, or you can pick one designed for a particular career.
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    Think about the career you want. Another option is to focus on the outcome, the career you want when you leave school. Maybe you think being a nurse would be an interesting career. In that case, you need to get an associate's or bachelor's in nursing, depending on what level nurse you want to be.[2]
    • When looking at your career, think about aptitude. That is, what are you good at? If your a person who loves to care for your friends and family, maybe you want a career where you can do the same, such as nursing.
    • If you want to one day open your own business, maybe you want a degree in business.
    • If you're not sure what you're good at, think about the subjects you excelled in at school or take a career aptitude test.
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    Look at the fields in demand right now. Another way to help you choose a career is to look at what fields need people. If you pick a growing field, you'll be more likely to get a job when you leave school, and you'll likely have higher earning potential.[3]
    • The Bureau of Labor Statistics is a good place to look for information on growing fields. In addition to data on how a field will grow, you can find information broken down for each type of job, including salary, what the job is like, and what you'll need to get the job.[4]
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    Don't limit your options. If you feel drawn to more than one field, you can always double major.[5] Double majoring means you focus on two fields of study while you're in school, and both will be listed on your diploma. You can also major in one field and minor in another. A minor is sort of a mini degree that requires fewer hours to complete.
    • You may think it will take you longer, but that's not always true. In many degree programs, you often have a number of built-in electives, meaning you must find classes to fill those hours, but you get to choose what they are. In that case, you can fill your electives with another major, so that you get done in the same amount of time it would take you to do one degree.
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    Know what to do if you can't decide. If you can't make up your mind exactly what you want to do or you'd like to check out several options, you need to make sure to pick a school that offers multiple programs you can do online. That way, you can switch majors if you decide you don't like what you're doing.[6]

Part 2
Narrowing Down Your School Choices

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    Try a school database. Any number of college databases are available where you can find schools based on your preferences. For instance, you should be able to narrow by whether they offer online programs, what majors they offer, and the cost.[7]
    • You may also be able to narrow by criteria such as teacher-to-student ratio and overall school size.
    • You can also pick between community colleges, large, public universities, and small, private universities.
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    Find ones that offer your degrees. Online degree programs come in all shapes and sizes. What programs they offer can vary widely, so you need to find one that offers the program you want. That way, you can get a degree in the major you've chosen. Also, some schools only offer some of their programs online, so you need to do your research.[8]
    • Community colleges, for instance, often have online degree programs, but they offer a narrow range of majors and degrees. Another option is for-profit universities, which also offer a narrow range of majors and degrees, usually in things like nursing, business, and accounting. One problem with for-profit universities is they don't always have the same clout as other universities and colleges.
    • Many traditional schools also offer online programs, though some may only offer a low-residency program, meaning you do most of the work online, but you may need to visit the school from time to time for intensive workshops and classes.
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    Consider longevity. While being older doesn't necessarily make a school better, longevity does command some respect. In other words, if the school you're looking at was started 2 years ago, you may have a harder time getting a job with that degree than a school that's been around much longer.[9]
    • Nonetheless, if the school opened more recently, it may be able to garner respect based on what other organizations it is connected with. For instance, if a new school is somehow associated with an Ivy League school, it will likely be respectable.
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    Look at financial aid. Some schools offer financial aid such as scholarships, while others do not. More traditional schools are more likely to offer scholarships than non-traditional schools, such as for-profit universities. Community colleges often don't offer as many scholarships, but the tuition is relatively cheaper compared to other schools.[10]
    • If the school doesn't offer scholarships, you should still be able to get some form of financial aid from the government if you need it, usually in the form of grants or student loans.
    • However, schools with scholarships can make things easier, as you may not need to take out as many loans. In addition, you can search scholarship databases for relevant ones to apply for outside of your school, even if your school doesn't offer them.
    • One reason to make sure your school is accredited is not being accredited can affect financial aid. If your school isn't properly accredited, you may not be able to get government financial aid.
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    Research student support. In an online program, you're going to need support from staff members at the school, even more so than you would in person. Therefore, you need to spend some time researching how much support the school offers students.[11]
    • Check to see if the school assigns an advisor to each student.
    • Also, see if the school has tutoring options, as well as people to call when you run into administrative problems.
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    See if students graduate on time. Another statistic you can look at is on-time graduation rates. Basically, that means the average student graduates in the amount of time it normally takes to finish that degree, such as 4 years for a bachelor's degree. You want to go for schools were students tend to finish on time.[12]
    • This number tells you how much students are spending to graduate. The more years you spend in school, the more money it takes you to get your degree.
    • To keep your debt in check, pick a school with a higher percentage of on-time graduates.
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    Consider Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC). Many websites now offer free courses taught by university professors and experts from around the world. While these courses usually won't give you a degree, some will give you a certificate of completion. It's also a good option if you just want to expand your knowledge in a certain area.[13]
    • You probably won't get the same interaction with the professor that you'd get in a normal course. However, you will often be able to interact with other students who are taking the course.
    • Some of the major websites offering MOOCs include Coursera, Khan Academy, Lynda, and Princeton.

Part 3
Checking for Accreditation

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    Look for the accreditation on the school's website. Most of the time, the school will list who they are accredited by. Accreditation means an outside body, one approved by the Department of Education, provides oversight for the school's academics. In turn, that means that you get a better quality education. Accreditation is important. Without it, your degree will have less impact, as many employers may not accept a degree from a non-accredited school.[14]
    • Look on the "About" page on the school's website.
    • You can also use Google to search the school's website if you can't find it. Type in "accreditation" Put in the main website address in place of "," and Google will search just that website.
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    Find the accreditation website. Once you find out who provides accreditation, you need to find that accreditation company's main website. You want to make sure the accreditation is legitimate and that it provides accreditation for other schools in the area.[15]
    • Checking up on these companies is important. You can look up their websites to see if the company even exists, for instance, and if their website is professional.
    • However, while a non-professional website (such as bad grammar or graphics) can indicate a company that's not reputable, a professional website does not mean the company is necessarily reputable. If you find a professional website, you need to dig deeper by looking at listings with the Department of Education.
    • Accreditation is often done regionally, meaning that a regional company accredits many schools in the same area, even ones with online programs.
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    See if it is listed with the Department of Education. When looking at an accreditation company, you can check up on it by making sure it is listed with either the Department of Education or the Council for High Education Accreditation. If the company is reputable, it will be listed on one of these two websites.[16]
    • The Department of Education has a College Navigator tool. You can use it to look up your school and make sure it is accredited instead of looking up the accreditation company.
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    Find a school through an accreditation database. You can also simply use a database to search for schools that focuses on accreditation. In other words, some databases only list schools that have respected accreditation. Still, you always want to check up on the school, as accreditation can change from year to year. For instance, a school or a part of a school can lose accreditation.[17]

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Categories: Distance Learning