Deciding on a college is a huge step. There are so many elements to take into consideration, no wonder it’s overwhelming! And with the price of admission rising, the stress is only getting worse. However, there is an alternative to attending classes in person: online college. For some people, it’s not a good fit; but for others, it is the perfect solution. The only way to know if online college is for you is to be well informed about what completing an online degree entails and knowing your study habits. All this information can then help you make an educated decision.
Given their flexibility and affordability, more students are turning to online classes to either supplement their course load at their own university or as an outright alternative to the more traditional on-campus experience. In fact, according to the most recent study by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), 27% undergraduate students in 2016 were taking at least one online course, and of those, up to 16% were completing their degrees entirely online.
When to consider online college:
With that being said, there are still a lot of questions you might have about whether or not online education is the right decision:
Does it hold the same weight as its traditional counterpart? Are classes easier (or is the content different because of the format) and therefore don’t teach as much of the material? Will the lack of a classroom environment set students up for failure?
These questions are valid when considering online college, but thankfully, as you’ll read below, the fears are unfounded.
So what exactly should you look for in an online college, and what does it provide that traditional colleges don’t?
The first concern people have is that an online college degree isn’t as ‘qualified’ as receiving one from a traditional university. The truth is that a degree from an online college is just as valid as long as it’s accredited. Now, you may have heard the term ‘accredited’ but have no idea what it means or how it affects you. Accreditation affects your education from the financial aid available to whether or not workplaces will accept the degree.
There are plenty of online college programs that make it clear on whether or not the particular school you are looking at is accredited, but if you wanted to confirm, all it takes is a simple phone call.
You’ll find that there are two types of accreditations: regional and national, and they are not synonymous with each other.
Regional: Regional accreditation is what you want in a school, online or on-campus. It’s an older and more established form of credentials. It is widely accepted and will ensure your degree is well received by the companies you are applying to.
National: National accreditation tends to be more specialized, and therefore is good to receive in more specific circumstances. Nationally accredited programs tend to be less expensive than their regional counterpart, but more often than not will not be accepted for positions that require licensing once the student has received their diploma, and credits usually do not transfer to other universities if you want to switch schools or pursue further education.
Online college allows you to study part-time or even full-time while having a full-time career or job. It also allows students to have internships while continuing their studies and offers the freedom to travel while studying. If you have family obligations or learning disabilities, you may find that the pace of online programs tend to be perfect for your particular needs.
Because online colleges cater to those who have other commitments that take up the time physical schools usually require for attending classes, you’ll find that the format varies depending on the school. This is great because not only can you fit the schooling to your schedule, you can also find one who’s format fits your learning style. Both styles allow you to choose your own breaks and maximize the time that otherwise would not be available to you, like summer and winter breaks.
One-Class at a Time: One of the ways online colleges operate is through a one-class-at-a-time process. Classes last four or five weeks, so you still make good progress without feeling overwhelmed.
Quarter: another format is the quarter system. Students can take between 1-4 classes a quarter, which allows them to shift their workload every few months as they see fit.
It is important to note that you aren’t necessarily exempt from group projects. The myth that doing college online is an individualistic activity is quite false. You will still be required to interact with your classmates via discussion posts and collaborations. That is, however, a great way to connect with people who live all over the states, and even the world.
There are plenty of online colleges that will cost you a pretty penny. However, online education can and most often is, in fact, more affordable. Online programs that are tied to actual universities can be a bit more expensive than colleges that specialize solely in online learning, mainly because some of the funds go to maintaining the physical location.
Overall, however, the annual tuition will cost less, and you are able to avoid paying out-of-state tuition, room and board, and parking fees. Also, due to the flexibility of class schedules, it’s easier to pay for school as you go.
When looking at all of your options, you want to pick a college that is a good fit. Online colleges offer a lot of advantages in terms of flexibility and price point. It does, however, require a certain level of self-discipline and self-direction. Don’t be intimidated by this fact, as these tools will be very useful in the workforce, but it’s good to keep in mind how you learn best. There are plenty of lists on the web that presents the regionally accredited online universities, and a quick search on their website will showcase the format they use.
Just like with any college, do your research. But don’t dismiss the online route until you’ve really looked into it. You might just find that you’ve discovered your perfect fit.