Checklist: How to Choose An Online College

While attending an online college is more flexible than being a traditional student, you still need to do careful research before you choose an online program. If you keep a few things in mind, you can find a program that will be a rich educational experience and will help further your career.

  1. Find a program that fits your goals: Where do you want to be when you're finished with your program? If you are looking at vocational or career-focused programs, you're probably interested in learning new skills and getting into the job market quickly. You want to make sure that your program has all the necessary classes and hands-on training that employers are going to be expecting from people with your degree. Check the Bureau of Labor Statistics website for classes and training that employers look for in your field, and make sure that the program meets those requirements. (
  2. Make sure it's accredited: Accreditation is important because it ensures that the education you're paying for is valuable and will be regarded as such by future employers. Regional accreditation associations and professional groups award accreditation to institutions and to particular programs. You can check to see if your program is accredited at the Department of Education's website. (
  3. Look at your sources of financial aid: Cost is a huge factor to consider when looking into online degree programs. First, make sure the program participates in the federal financial aid program. If it does, fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid six to eight months before you plan on enrolling in order to receive any grant or loan money you are entitled to. Also, see if you are eligible for reduced in-state tuition at any online colleges in your state of residence. Finally, see if the college itself offers any scholarships or aid, and factor this into your budgetary considerations when deciding on a program.
  4. Investigate the curriculum and professors: Ask for a sample of the curriculum from the programs you are interested in. Do they have video instruction, or is it all written? Are there different types of media involved in the lesson plans? Also check out the professors and instructors at the institution, and decide if they are people you would want to learn from. E-mail professors you are intrigued by and ask them questions about their classes to gauge their enthusiasm and helpfulness. Overall, does the program give you enough interaction with professors and quality materials to learn from? (

What to Watch Out For

  • Be wary of schools that charge by the degree, not the credit hour. These are likely to be diploma mills that offer useless, unaccredited degrees in exchange for cash. 
  • Programs that don't offer any face-time with professors are a no go. Just because you're getting your education with distance learning, it doesn't mean you shouldn't have face-to-face interaction. Quality programs will have lots of opportunities for face-to-face interaction. 
  • Ask to see graduation and drop-out statistics from your college or program. If they can't provide this information, or if the drop-out rate is high, you should be skeptical of the program.

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