Top 5 Methods of Choosing the Best Online College for You

Top 5 Methods of Choosing the Best Online College for You

When looking to continue your education through the venue of an online institution, there are many factors involved in making such a big decision. It is highly recommended that you take a non-biased look at your personal and financial standings before even committing to the pursuit of higher education. Once you feel you are ready to handle the obligations that come with going to a post-secondary school, choosing the best online college for you is essentially a matter of investigation and what seems suitable for your situation.

The first method of choosing an online institution (and probably the most important) is researching a school's accreditation. Without being accredited, a university wastes not only your time, but your money as well. What is known as a "degree mill", these fraudulent colleges enroll students into online courses, present a vague semester outline or syllabus with flimsy homework assignments and usually six to eight weeks later, send out diplomas to all of their students. If the university in question boasts an extremely short course completion time, especially for full degrees, they are more often than not false institutions looking to take your money in exchange for a piece of paper printed off of a home printer. According to Accredibase, a searchable resource for qualified institutions, diploma mills have seen a staggering 48 percent rise in the year 2010 alone. By checking a school's accreditation, you can be sure you are not only receiving a high-quality education, but that all of your hard work and effort in learning will be recognized by other universities (in case of a later enrollment) and future employers.

A probable source of many headaches when looking to return to school or continue on the path of higher education is budgetary issues. According to the United States Government National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) after the adjustment for inflation, school costs have risen 25 percent in the 2009-10 school year. As it is extremely important that you be able to afford the online college you choose to go to, there are literally thousands of different lending institutions, grants and scholarships available to most anyone looking for financial aid. By taking a serious look at your income and current monetary responsibilities, you can determine what you can honestly afford to spend on an education. Look for an online school that offers payment plans and will also accept federal grants. While you may not be able to pay for your tuition up front, you most likely will be able to find an institution ready to work with your current financial situation.

How a school teaches and utilizes online-based instructional procedures can very well make or break your learning experience. Many instructors wield different teaching techniques that can make absorbing lessons and information easier or more difficult, depending on your personal learning style. The Sloan Consortium, a nonprofit assembly that promotes online learning, reported in November of 2010 that students enrolled in one or more online classes account for 29 percent of all students attending degree-granting institutions in the United States. Some online colleges insist the student attend some in-person classes in order to earn their degree, while others simply require full attendance through an online venue. If you have other commitments, like a full-time job or family at home you will need to evaluate how a school offers its courses in order to make the decision of whether or not you will be available to attend all of the required classes.

While checking out a school's accreditation is an absolute necessity, you should also consider checking into the teaching staff's credentials as well. After all, the people who are schooling you should hold the proper certifications so that you should receive the education you are pursuing. As reported in a 2002 study by the Stanford Research Institute (SRI) and the RAND Corporation, it is estimated that in the state of California alone, 14 percent of all teachers are instructing without the proper credentials. The combination of teaching experience and holding relevant degrees is of utmost importance to your online college education. While you may feel your instructor will hardly be involved in your learning experience, online teachers play a significant role in not only grading your work, but leading forum discussions, answering questions and the initial instruction as well.

According to a 2007 study conducted by the International Review of Research in Open and Distance Learning (IRRODL), the quality of online learning experiences were generally found to be comparable to in-person classrooms. For those who feel skeptical about the quality of education provided by an online school, it is suggested that graduate outcomes are investigated. By seeing how online graduates fair after earning their degree through the school in question, you can determine whether or not attending that particular university will be suitable to your learning goals and needs.


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