Summary: Online colleges can charge students high fees; but offer little education. You should carefully select an online college. The following should help you.
How to Pick an Online College
Students who are unable to attend traditional classes due to work, family, or other responsibilities can now take college courses online. An ever-increasing number of colleges offer online courses with some allowing you to obtain an Associate, Bachelor’s, or Master’s degree entirely online.
You must be careful to select a college that offers a quality education. Some colleges charge students high fees; but offer little in the way of education and the degrees they confer have little value. The questions that follow should help you select a quality college.
Is the school accredited by a recognized agency?
Accreditation is the evaluation of a college or university’s academic program by an outside evaluator. The goal of the evaluation is to ensure that the education provided by the institution meets an acceptable level of quality. Accreditation agencies are private, nonprofit educational associations that can be either regional or national in scope.
The United States Department of Education (USDE) and Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) review accrediting agencies and maintain lists of recognized accrediting agencies. When choosing a college, you should make sure a recognized accrediting agency has accredited the school. You can find lists of recognized agencies on the USDE and the CHEA websites.
Will my credits transfer?
Students often start college at one school and then finish at another. For example, you may earn an Associate degree at one college and then transfer to another college or university to earn your Bachelor’s degree. You may even take courses at several colleges before you complete your degree. In both cases, you should make sure your credits will transfer, so you won’t need to take the same course twice.
Most colleges and universities will transfer credits if credits you earned are from a college accredited by a recognized agency, they offer a comparable course, and you earned a grade of C or better. If you know you are going to transfer, you should inquire about the transferability of credits before taking courses. Students who take online courses should refer to the Students Guide to Transfer Credits for detailed guidelines on transferring credits received from an online school.
What is the school’s admissions policy?
Many quality schools have an open admission policy. However, you should carefully review schools that admit students with few exceptions and/or admit students who do not have a high school diploma or General Equivalency Diploma (GED).
Some quality schools give credit for life experience. However, you should carefully scrutinize schools that give credit for life experience with little or no documentation or verification.
Will I receive quality academic, administrative, and technical support?
Student services fall into three categories: academic, administrative, and technical support. As a student, you receive academic support primarily from your instructor. Your instructor should answer your questions and provide feedback on your assignments promptly. The best way to assess the quality of academic support is to talk to former and/or current students.
Administrative support consists of assistance with finding financial aid, selecting courses, registering for classes, ordering books, preparing for graduation, an such. You should know the people to contact for each of these services, and they should answer your questions completely, accurately, politely, and in a timely fashion. Before you enroll in an online college, the college should supply you with a list of contact people who should be available to you at convenient times.
Technical support consists of help with any computer problems you have. You should be able to obtain technical support in a timely fashion.
What is the reputation of the school?
You can ask a prospective college for a list of current and former students and then contact the students to ask their opinions. You should check with the Better Business Bureau to find out if any complaints have beeb filed against the school. You should write to each accrediting agency and ask for a copy of their most recent evaluation of the college. Review the document for any problems, being sure to check the financial stability of the school. You should also ask the school about their dropout rate. A high dropout rate may indicate that students were dissatisfied with the school. In addition, before you enroll, you should ask if you can sit in on a class. While there, scrutinize the course content and presentation.
What does it cost to attend?
Before enrolling in online courses, you should know the total cost. For example, you should know exactly what hardware and software you need, the cost of tuition, and any additional costs you will incur, such as textbooks, shipping charges, activity fees, library fees, transcript fees, and so on. You should also know what the refund policy is should you have to drop out before you complete the course. Tuition should be on a per credit, not a program basis.
What are the instructor’s qualifications and how large are classes?
You should know the credentials of your instructors. Does the person have experience in the field? Has the person taught online before? Is he or she a full-time or adjunct professor? The answers to these questions can help you assess the quality of the course.
The more students in a class, the less time the instructor has to devote to each student. With a class size of 25 or less, the instructor can usually give each student an ample amount of attention. Before taking an online course, inquire about class size.