Online degrees enable people to complete their coursework entirely via the Internet, with no actual face-to-face contact between students and professors (although sometimes meetings during office hours can be arranged). They are very similar to traditional degrees at your local state or community college, but everything is done via the Internet instead of in a classroom.
Online programs are ideal for people who work full time, need to stay at home with kids, or have a difficult time making it to traditional classes. However, pursuing a degree online is not without its challenges.
Students considering an online program should make sure that it is the best learning environment for them. Students seeking online degrees must:
- be comfortable working independently to read materials and complete assignments;
- have the self-motivation to set aside the necessary time to complete an online degree;
- possess strong writing skills to successfully communicate their ideas;
- have access to a computer and the Internet and be able to use these technologies.
In addition, students should take the time to evaluate various online degree programs before they enroll in any program. With a number of programs in existence which are not well-respected, it might be wise for students to check if the university from which they are receiving their degree is accredited. Any agency granting accreditations typically has been evaluated by the U.S. Department of Education and is considered to be a reliable authority.
However, the consideration of whether a school is accredited or not, is not the sole factor to evaluate (some schools provide a quality education without accreditation). Students should also check the credentials of professors and advisors and make sure that they are easily accessible. Consider researching what recent graduates of your school are up to; if it seems like they have been able to find good jobs utilizing their education, this could be a good fit.
If you can, meet with a college counselor from your school so that you can plan your class schedule. This can help you avoid taking extra electives, forgetting to take certain classes you need, or otherwise wasting your time and money on the way to graduation. Research what fees are required (application, graduation, transfer, etc). Also account for whether your program is synchronous or asynchronous, meaning it is held live, in real time, or available to access anytime online.
In addition to checking the job placement rates of the degree program to which they are applying, also look for resources provided by the school such as online libraries and databases. Your school should offer various places to find information to make your job search easier. As more people choose to pursue online degrees, reputable colleges and universities should be able to assess and show student achievement as well.
Be sure you know if the career and employer you are interested in supports online learning; for some jobs, it doesn’t matter where you earned your degree, but for others those hiring may be looking for more real-world experience.
Ask other questions such as:
- How are students evaluated?
- How do they interact with each other and with teachers?
- Do the instructors seem well-qualified and approachable?
When it comes to online education, you can’t have too much information before making your decision to enroll.
One of the biggest drawbacks some see to online education is that it does not offer the social interaction and communication that a traditional brick-and-mortar campus requires students to build. But even if you are taking classes online, you can still improve these skills by getting involved in other activities. Start a local community club, join a volunteer organization or consider travel you’ve taken which gives you this communal experience and ability to connect to others. You can highlight hobbies, work experience and internships besides your education during interviews as well.
If you are working while pursuing an online degree, also consider utilizing the connections you make at your job. If you can network and conduct informational interviews with those in the field you want to get into, you’ll be one step ahead when it comes time to apply for a job. Read industry magazines, keep up with the news, and utilize your friends and family for contact information.
Overall, online degrees offer students the flexibility to pursue an education at their own convenience, but they are not for everyone. Students should take the time to make sure an online degree program is the best choice for them, and they should closely evaluate various online degree programs before enrolling.