How to Choose Schools.
Online schools are gaining in popularity and acceptance as an alternative to traditional "brick and mortar" colleges and universities. They typically cost lots less and you save money on dormitory expenses and commuting costs. But not all online schools are the same. You have to be just as thorough in researching an online school as you would be in selecting a traditional on-campus school to attend.
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Here are things to look for …
Confirm that the School is Accredited
Do not overlook this step. You will spend considerable time and money that you certainly do not want to waste on a school that lacks accreditation. Check the U.S. Department of Education website - <http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/>. Check each school you are considering to make sure that they are listed in the Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. If a school you are considering is not accredited - move on to the next school on your list. Watch out for scams where a school claims accreditation - but it is not listed by the U.S. Department of Education.
Talk to Others
If you know someone who is or has taken courses online get their opinion. Ask about what the workload was like. And if they received a certificate or degree and are currently employed - find out how opting for an online degree was perceived by their employer. Search the school website to see if they have an alumni network. If so, contact the network and speak with members to find out about their overall satisfaction. If you are employed and considering online studies, talk to your human resources department. Ask about schools they like. Explore whether there are any types of tuition reimbursement programs to offset your costs.
Review Course Descriptions
Most schools have an online catalog of courses. If there is not one to review contact the school to request a copy. Carefully read through the descriptions to get a good understanding of the course objectives, goals, required materials, time required and costs. Understand the full scope of the commitment that your coursework will require. Some courses require set chat sessions or video attendance. Others are at-your-pace. Be sure to consider which style of learning will work with your learning style so you will be successful.
Speak With a Guidance Counselor
Even online schools have counselors. When you narrow your choices down to 1-3, contact each school to request an opportunity to chat by telephone, Skype of email. Make a list of questions. Find out how students interact with instructors. Get an understanding of how technology is used and what your equipment requirements will be. Ask about technical support if you have trouble accessing coursework - is it 24/7/365? Find out about administrative assistance to make sure that your online experience is successful. You want phone calls returned and emails promptly answered. And be sure to ask about financial aid.
Many working professionals are opting to use online distance learning to complete an advanced degree, such as a masters. Find out what the school policy is on transferring credits from previously attended schools. This will vary. But typically, schools accept anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of prior credits. Some schools give "Life Credits" to working professionals. If you believe you qualify - be sure to ask for an application.
The opportunity to gain a certificate or degree by online and distance learning takes away many excuses and obstacles to obtaining higher education. Seize your opportunity. But as in the case with making all important decisions - do your research!
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