You’re virtually there. You’ve decided to invest in an online education and you’re searching out the offerings from the many online schools. With this type of classes, you’re likely to be among students of all ages and from varied backgrounds and geographical locations. The next step is finding the right online college.
Students in any college search are often advised to look for schools with programs and reputations that best meet their educational and career goals. With online college, students can also look for programs that meet their individual lifestyle and scheduling needs. There are online schools that offer entire degree programs online and traditional colleges that mix an online education with campus-based classes or class components. And visiting an online college might mean touring the web site that can be all or a part of its campus.
In addition to determining what online college program requirements are, students might consider factors that can enhance their educational experience and keep them working toward their goals: How flexible are deadlines and, depending upon the circumstance, do they keep time zones in mind? How accessible are online college instructors, and do they provide timely, meaningful feedback? How are online college classes taught, and do they allow opportunities to interact with the instructor and fellow students?
* Do your homework. In addition to visiting college Web sites, you might review any promotional e-mails or brochures, digital and otherwise, from online colleges and traditional colleges that have online components. Consider attending college fairs where you can learn more about different online education offerings and speak with online college representatives. You might also be able to meet with online college students there.
* Make a list of online college programs that best meet your needs and goals. If you haven’t yet decided on a major or future career, you might look for online colleges that offer a wide variety of majors and programs.
* Consider a closer look. Retention and graduation rates have traditionally suggested academic quality and how satisfied students are with a school. With online colleges, positive relationships with instructors, well-planned and taught courses, flexibility and interaction have been said to increase retention rates and enhance student satisfaction. When an online school is accredited, that means it meets current accreditation board standards. It’s also more likely that you’ll be able to transfer an accredited school’s credits and that employers might be more inclined to accept your degree. Federal financial aid, provided only to accredited institutions, might also be more readily available to help pay for tuition.
* Chat with other “consumers.” Consider asking family members and friends about their experiences with specific college courses and online degree programs. You might also approach college representatives, asking them to connect you with students or graduates. If you have an online college major and career path in mind, look toward people in your field of choice who might provide input on the colleges you’re considering. And, if you’re planning to enroll in online college immediately after high school, a high school counselor might provide guidance on how to best meet your needs and goals. There is an abundance of information about online college degree programs on the web.
* Get a sub-total. In comparing tuition costs, you might also deduct any financial assistance you can receive and apply to them. The government offers financial need-based grants that don’t have to be repaid. And schools, civic groups, labor unions, large corporations, non-profit organizations and more offer academic and demographic- and studies-specific scholarships and fellowships that are also, essentially, “gifts”.
Federal government work study programs and low- and no-interest loans might also help pay for tuition. Some financial aid offerings are awarded under specific academic circumstances, such as when classes are part of a traditional or online degree program.