The decision to earn an online college degree is a serious one that will have life long consequences. That’s why it is so important to make sure you choose a quality online college or university that’s right for you. Here are four things to look for when researching online schools:
1. Accreditation. Accreditation refers to the approval of a college or university by an independent system of accountability and quality control. When checking out online colleges and universities, be sure to find out if they are accredited, what type of accreditation they have, and which agencies they are accredited by. Sometimes this information is posted on a school’s web site. You can also look up a school’s accreditation through the U.S. Department of Education’s Accreditation Database. The best form of accreditation comes from regional accrediting agencies. The most respected regional accrediting agencies are Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, New England Association of Schools and Colleges, North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, Southern Association of Schools and Colleges, and Western Association of Schools and Colleges.
2. A Good Reputation. When you go out on the job market, the reputation of the school you graduated from is going to be important. If an employer looks on your resume and sees the name of a school that they don’t recognize, or worse, have heard bad things about, it could hurt your career chances. Start by asking your friends. Chances are they’ve done an online degree or no someone who as and can offer their own personal experience. If possible, ask potential employers in the field your interested in about which online schools they’ve hired from before. It’s also a good idea to check out an independent and objective ranking of online colleges and universities to get a sense of which online schools are performing the best according to objective criteria.
3. Transparency. As you do your research on online colleges and degree programs, you will probably discover that some online schools are more forthcoming than others about things like tuition and accreditation. Be wary of schools that make you jump through hoops to find out these things. What are they trying to hide? Maybe nothing, but its good to be skeptical. Online schools that are confident in their quality and their value will be upfront about tuition, fees, and accreditation, because they recognize these things as selling points for their program, and more importantly, are concerned that prospective students make a wise and informed decision about where to pursue their online college degree. If a school doesn’t publish detailed information about accreditation, tuition, and fees directly on their web page, proceed with caution.
4. A Solid Track Record. Nothing tells you more about the quality and value of an online college or university than a solid track record of retaining, graduating, and placing students in good jobs. If most students who start an online degree program are dropping out after the first year and never graduating then there’s good reason to ask some hard questions about why that might be. Perhaps the students were just bad students. But maybe the school or the program simply wasn’t any good or wasn’t investing what it should in helping students make it to graduation. Some of the more transparent online schools publish their retention and graduation rates on their web sites. You can also ask for this information directly from a school representative. Retention and graduation data for some schools is available through the U.S. Department of Education’s College Navigator Database. Finally, be sure to inquire about a school’s success in placing graduates in good jobs. Again, some online colleges and universities publish this information on their web site, along with student testimonies, but it can also be asked for directly.