Online college degree programs are an ideal option for independent learners looking to advance their education.
Taking classes online allows you to complete your course work at a time and place that are convenient for you. This makes it possible for working adults, busy parents and those with other time constraints to manage their daily responsibilities while earning a degree.
Not all online degree programs, however, are created equal.
Before you submit an application or apply for student loans, there are a few key things you should look for when selecting an online college or university.
Colleges and universities that have been accredited by nationally recognized accreditation boards are required to undergo a rigorous assessment of their educational quality, institutional goals, requirements for admission, academic standards and faculty credentials.
Additionally, employers are known to favor job applicants who have graduated from accredited schools. Some may even require verification of your school’s accreditation.
For a list of accredited colleges and universities, visit the U.S. Department of Education website.
Traditional colleges and universities with well-established online programs tend to have strong reputations for producing successful graduates who are recognized as capable contributors in their real-world work environments.
It’s important to research the reputation of an educational institution by consulting college rankings and awards, reading online reviews, speaking with people who have graduated from the school or asking people in hiring positions their opinion of the college or university you are considering.
3. Curriculum that is developed and taught by experienced faculty and vetted instructors
The quality of the online education you receive is directly related to the professional experience and knowledge of your instructors.
A high-quality online degree program will feature curriculum developed — and taught — by college faculty who have strong academic credentials and/or by professionals with real-world experience who have gone through extensive vetting processes and are considered experts in their fields.
4. Required training process for online faculty and instructors
Ensuring the academic integrity of online degree programs involves a significant investment of resources in technology, course development and faculty/instructor training.
Colleges or universities that are known for the quality of their online programs typically have dedicated resources for training faculty on best practices in teaching online.
Training faculty how to teach highly interactive online courses helps ensure that the same rigorous standards for on-campus courses are effectively translated into the online learning environment.
5. Interaction with, and access to, instructors and classmates
The ability to interact and discuss course work with professors and fellow students has a significant impact on the online learning experience.
The gold standard for a highly interactive online experience are “instructor-led” courses, which have instructors assigned to actively oversee all aspects of the course. In such courses, online students communicate frequently with faculty and classmates using live chat sessions, email, threaded discussions and more.
The alternative “self-paced” online courses require students to complete course work on their own. Self-paced courses do not provide a high level of interaction, and they have been shown to result in much lower completion rates and poorer learning outcomes than instructor-led online courses.