A Beginner's Guide to Online Schools
Every day, millions of people enroll in college, from recent high-school graduates, starry-eyed and ready to experience the world, to seasoned professionals, seeking career changes or advancement on the job. They all want the best education possible-but generally don't have time to travel to and from classes, sit in crowded lecture halls, or track down professors for office hours. Schools online provide them with a viable alternative.
An online education helps students learn, grow, and flourish without many of the hassles traditional colleges and universities present. From the comfort of their own homes, students can learn the right skills for the right jobs at the right times. If you're ready for a change in life, and looking forward to higher education, but traditional schooling is not an option, earning an online degree - from an associate's degree to a PhD - may be the choice for you.
The key to getting the most from your online learning experience is knowing what you want from, and can give to, the experience. This means gathering all the facts you can before enrolling.
As a first step, take our Online Schools Survey to see how your technical skills and personal attitude match up to what will be required of you as an online student.
Online Schools Survey
Next, you will need to learn as much as you can about your chosen path of online schooling. Some questions you should ask while researching include:
- What are my goals? What degree or certificate will you pursue, and in what field or major? Different schools online have different specialties, with some offering courses in a wide variety of technology fields and others focusing more on the humanities.
- What is the tech level of this program? Will you need constant access to you own computer? What about your general computer and technology skills? You may need to take a refresher course, or purchase a new computer.
- How much time and dedication will I need to devote to my studies? While an online university will offer greater flexibility than traditional university programs, it will by no means be easy. Online schooling can require as many as 4 hours per week of independent research, writing, and/or study time, and some have on-campus components that must be attended.
- What is the financial commitment? Online classes can cost $400-800 per credit, and while, if you graduate, the investment ultimately pays off with higher wages and greater job opportunities, it is vital to know how much your program costs, and how to get financial aid, if you need it.
- What are the requirements for admission? Depending on your degree plan and school of choice, you may need to have completed an appropriate level of study with a specific GPA.
How Online Schools Work
For the most part, online classes involve independent work on assignments given out by the instructor. After enrolling, handling your financial obligations, and registering for classes you will have access to a website or portal for your class. There you can see assignments, required readings, due dates, grades given, and other pertinent information. This online syllabus will often allow you to work at your own pace to complete required assignments.
Assignments can range from essays and research papers to discussions to online quizzes and tests that use special websites or software. Some classes require students to practice what they've learned in the field, and submit presentations or written accounts of their findings to the teacher. Others ask students to participate in online chats or discussion groups.
Academic counselors and advisors keep in touch via regular emails and/or phone calls, scheduled in advance to meet all your needs, while respecting your schedule. Professors and other support staff are available by phone, email, and sometimes even IM, if you have questions or need help.
Most online degree programs can be completed in three to four years. Many of the top online schools hold centralized or regional commencement ceremonies where all students have the option to march and celebrate.
Degrees, Programs, and Certificates
An online college will offer many of the same degrees available at a traditional school, from Associate's through Doctoral degrees, and many offer certificates for continuing study in your field. Online students get their degrees in healthcare, education, business, arts and humanities, communication, law, engineering, and the natural and social sciences. Within each of these categories, you can delve into a wide range of specialties, including French, finance, geology, video-game design, and elementary education. Check the catalog of your school of choice for more details.
Finding the Best Online College
Finding the right online school is critical to your success. Even after answering the basic questions posed in "Getting Started", there are still other things to consider when actually choosing a school. For example:
- Location. If most of the staff and faculty are in another time zone, it may be difficult to get in touch when you need to, or to get assignments in on time. Also, an online college with a nearby campus affords you the option of in-person meetings and the chance to network, meet other up-and-coming professionals, and establish bonds with future clients, colleagues, and resources, and recommendation-writers.
- Accreditation. Only institutions accredited by US Department of Education (DOE)-recognized agencies have been found to have curriculum, teaching and operating standards, and faculty up to par with the educational needs of today's students. Check to make sure any potential colleges are accredited--and then make sure that the agencies that accredited them are legitimate, by looking for them on the DOE website.
- Scams. Unfortunately, several institutions posing as online universities are fraudulent. These "diploma mills" take students' money without giving them any educational value in return. Hallmarks of such scams include insisting on up-front payment; granting diplomas in short time periods, even months; taking life or work experience for credits; and having no physical address, only a P.O. Box. Beware of these.
We have specially prepared reports on some of the most popular online schools in the US to help you in your search for the best online school for you. Take some time to browse through them below.
Choosing a school and gaining admission is just the first step towards achieving your goals through education online. Although online schooling has some similarities to traditional on-campus schooling, there are many stark differences. Read through these short articles to gain valuable insight on how to succeed while attending school online:
Student pitfalls from choosing the wrong school to procrastinating on coursework.
Contrary to popular belief, its just as important online as in traditional colleges.
Learn about the use of chat rooms, collaborative projects, and web conferencing.
Learn why practice & preparation are essential for effective chatroom discussion.
Believe it or not, it all begins with knowing how to Google.
Ensure you reap the benefits of a new degree as quickly as possible.
Leaders, organization & proactive execution are all essentials for effective group work.
Wikipedia is your friend!
More and more employers are starting to recognize the value of an accredited online education from the top online schools. However, there is still a disparity. That is why, if obtaining a traditional degree is feasible for you, that is still the best option.
That said, after graduation, online alums are prepared for a variety of positions, depending on their degrees; Associate's and Bachelor's Degree holders typically go into entry- to mid-level jobs in their chosen fields, while Master's and Doctoral candidates often gain promotions, start their own businesses, or enter new industries in higher-level positions.
If after all this, you still have question regarding online schools, browse through the following answers to frequently asked questions or turn to Online Schools E-Book for more information:
The ins and outs of the application process.
Convenience, flexibility, and so much more.
Ride the wave of what's hot today.
Learn what you need to know about going to online school.
Awareness is spreading about the legitimacy of online education.