Whether you’re applying to college for the first time or returning to school after a lengthy absence, you may be considering attending an online college. While online schools aren’t the right choice for every student, they are the perfect choice for many. If you’ve decided to consider online schools alongside brick-and-mortar universities, there are specific things that you need to look for; here are five of the most important:
Accreditation is as important in the online school community as it is in the real world. Accreditation means that a school has met, and is continuing to maintain, a rigid set of criteria set forth by a governing body or commission. By attending an accredited school, you can be certain that you will receive a top-notch education. In addition, if you decide to transfer schools later, most, if not all, of your credits will transfer with you.
When you are researching online schools, take a close look at their class schedule. Most online schools allow you to choose a class and “attend” when it is convenient for you. Your class may consist of recorded lectures, discussion forums, chats, assignments and exams. Alternatively, some schools will have a class or two that requires you to meet in person occasionally or take an exam on campus. This can be very important to note, particularly if you are looking at an online school that is based out of state.
The school you choose should have curriculum that is relevant to your desired major or educational goals. For instance, if you want to pursue a degree in criminology, make sure that the school offers that program of study. While there are some online colleges that offer a wide range of curricula, there are others that are very narrow in their focus. While you can attend one college for your general education classes, and transfer to another for your final two years, it may not make sense to do so when you can attend the same college for all four years.
4. Student Services
One of the benefits of a traditional college is the large amount of on-campus student services. It’s not impossible to find the same services in an online school, but you may have to look harder for them. When looking at online schools, look for those that offer advisement, tutoring and career counseling services. You may also want to look for a school that offers job placement assistance for its graduates.
5. Financial Aid
Many people are under the mistaken impression that online schools are cheaper. While this may be true in some cases, it isn’t true in all cases. If you will need to utilize financial aid to help pay your tuition, make sure that the online schools you are looking at accept financial aid. If they don’t, you will either have to pay your tuition out-of-pocket, take out a private student loan or look for other sources of funding.
Online schools are great options when it comes to higher education, but you’ve got to make sure that you’re choosing the right school. If you’re looking at online schools, make sure that you find those that fit all of the above listed criteria. In doing so, you’ll be sure that you’ve chosen the best school for your educational needs.
Will Henderson is a full-time writer for higher ed blogs. Several schools offer online courses, including University of Cincinnati and Western New England University.