This being 2014, online degree programs are a major force in adult education. Working adults in record numbers want to find college degrees online so that they can get their degrees without sacrificing their jobs and other obligations.
There are a few thousand online colleges operating today, but only a few hundred that are fully accredited by the appropriate agencies, something you should always check before enrolling. Over 10% of all college students took most or all of their classes online in the last year–that’s over 2 million students in accredited online colleges.
Enrollment has gone up steadily as more and more people have access to the Internet, and more people feel comfortable with the idea of an alternative education. More online schools get accredited now than a decade ago, which makes those online degree programs more tempting for students. Business degrees are a popular online choice, but even subjects like nursing are starting to move partially online. Graduate degrees are also becoming more commonly earned online today.
History of Accredited Online Schools
The first online school was the University of Phoenix. It started in 1975 as a non-traditional school offering night classes and different schedules for those who wanted to work full-time and earn a degree. In 1989, the school took that one step further and moved online. The first graduates of this new type of online learning earned their degrees in 1991.
Thanks in part to this University’s record, online college degrees are now mostly regarded as equal to offline degrees. While any kind of online education including correspondence courses were looked down on 10 to 20 years ago, today online degree programs are widely accepted as a true measure of education by most employers. Accreditation can make all the difference in whether or not a degree is of benefit to you, so accrediting agencies examine the online colleges and accredit the worthy programs.
More people enroll in accredited online schools each year, as more classes and fields of study become available, making it easier to find college degrees online. As technology improves, the way to receive the course material and learn online improves, too. This means that online education improves with these advancements, making the learning environment even better.
Find the Right Online School
Finding the right online college program starts with researching accredited online schools that interest you. Accreditation refers to the school’s status with the agencies that judge educational institutions and degrees in that region, state or country. Fully accredited online colleges will have the seal of approval of the appropriate educational accrediting agencies. Without this, degrees from online colleges aren’t worth pursuing.
When you’re researching and trying to find college degrees online, be sure to also look at the staff and their backgrounds. Their education and achievements will tell you a lot about the quality of their accredited online schools. The more distinguished the staff of the degree programs, the better an education you’re most likely to get. Don’t forget to have a look at their distinguished alumni, either. Seeing information about those who have graduated from their online degree programs can help you make a decision.
When you go to find college degrees online, make sure the schools you’re interested in offer the exact degrees you want. Top online schools offer associate degrees, bachelors degrees, masters degrees and sometimes doctorate degrees. But some other schools don’t offer actually degrees, but offer a certificate or diploma instead. If you want a degree, be sure to find a program that will give you one.
To evaluate the degree programs you’ll look into, consider things like:
- how easy it will be to contact the instructor
- the type of material presented and how it’s presented (webinar, text, audio files, chat)
- how you’ll interact with other students
- accreditation and qualification of the staff–only attend accredited online schools
- how you’ll be tested and evaluated in the program
If possible, you should ask questions of alumni of the program for insider information on the benefits and drawbacks of that particular degree program.
Applying and Expectations
Some accredited online schools require some information from you before you can apply for admission. They’ll contact you so you can have your questions answered and they can find out about your plans and expectations from their online degree programs. But you can also find college degrees online where you can apply for admission right from that college’s website. In this case, often you’ll fill out the admission forms and have to pay an admission processing fee, usually around $50, to have your form reviewed. You may also have to take online tests to assess your readiness for classes like math, science and English.
When you find college degrees online you might think that the process can be similarly frustrating to applying for regular college admission. But because of the flexibility online colleges offer, acceptance usually comes within a few days to several days after you submit your application. You can usually start immediately, because classes are rolling and housed online waiting for you to access them at your pace. If you’re concerned about your admission process, testing or your qualifications, contact the admissions department of the school and ask them your questions. Every reputable online college will have this contact information clearly marked on their website.
Preparing for an Online College Education
When you find college degrees online that interest you and you choose a program, you might be surprised at the cost. It’s much more expensive to attend online colleges per credit hour than traditional colleges. But it’s well worth the cost for the convenience at the ability to earn a degree while working. Still, after looking at the prices for online degree programs you might want to be able to find your other resources as cheaply as possible.
To find books at a discount, often you’ll find college degrees online through schools that offer a textbook service. You pay a small fee to rent the books and then return them when you’re finished. There are online college textbooks resources like that that offer deep discounts on textbooks. Don’t neglect things like eBay and Half.com where you can often buy used books for a fraction of their cost new. And for some online degree programs you might be able to find the texts you need absolutely free online. Check resources like Textbook Revolution, Freeload Press, Bartelby.com and Project Gutenberg for free texts online.
Supplies and computer equipment purchased online are usually cheaper, too. Stores like NewEgg and Amazon offer deep discounts on computers and supplies, while eBay or an online college message board are great placed to buy used equipment.
Also, don’t neglect to brush up on your communication skills. Email is the most common method of communicating with instructors and fellow students, while messages on boards and sometimes live chat also figure in. When communicating with instructors, forget texting shorthand and write in complete sentences. When communicating with both instructors and fellow students, be just as courteous and polite as you would be in face to face communications.
Organize Your Life for College and Achieve a Balance
When you find college degrees online that interest you, it can be hard to choose just one. Don’t let the enthusiasm you felt when you discovered you could find college degrees online let you get too overeager when it comes to classes. Remember that even though you don’t have a commute or a chunk or time that must be set aside each day for classes, there’s still only 24 hours in each day. It’s important to find a balance with family life, work and study.
You still have to spend ample time preparing for tests. And make sure your classes are flexible if you need them to be. Some online classes meet at specific times, and you’ll benefit more if you can be present.
Online colleges offer support for students, because for some it can be a difficult transition to independent study. Contact your online school about the help they offer to support you while you’re earning your education. Chat sessions between students and exchanged emails can also be a source of support.
Of course, your family should support you in your efforts to earn your degree. Make sure they’re aware you’ve chosen e-learning so you don’t’ have to give up your job or all the time you spend with them. And don’t neglect to get support from your workplace. Especially if your future degree will make you more valuable to your current employer, your work should be a source of encouragement and support for your efforts.
If you start to feel overwhelmed or frustrated, let the people around you, classmates and your college know, and support will be there to help you get back on track.
Succeeding in Your Online Program
There’s no secret to the ability find college degrees online and to succeed at earning them. The only “secrets” are things like hard work, discipline and the desire to succeed.
You need to be self-motivated to do well in online colleges. Just like someone who works from home, you must be willing and able to do the work independently. There won’t be an instructor there cracking a whip or telling you what to do, or how to allot your time for homework and study. You must take it upon yourself to keep up and get the work done.
Since accredited online schools are conducted in a way that you might not be able to ask your instructor or another classmate a question the moment it pops up, you need to make sure you know how to contact others for help. Make sure you know how to get messages and questions to your instructor, and that you’re aware of any class meeting schedules or informal study group sessions. All these things can help enrich your education.
Preparing for online tests in online degree programs is the same as preparing for any other tests. The main difference is that you’ll have to take the test through technology like your computer, or with a local proxy standing by. Many people choose their local library and ask the librarian to be a proxy instructor. They let you take the test while they supervise.
Final exams are almost always done by proxy, so ask your proxy candidate early to make sure you can take the exams when you need to take them. And use every online tool and resource that the accredited online schools offer to help you prepare for these important exams.
Preparing for Your Future
Embarking in an online education is exciting, but you may still have some anxiety especially about how employers might view your online degree. Fortunately, the tide has turned over the last decade or two and now the majority of corporate employers, at least, view non-traditional and online college degrees as just as good as offline degrees. This is a vast turnaround from when online and distance learning was viewed as a poor substitute.
If this concerns you, remember that there’s no need to point out that the degree was earned online if you’d rather not. Just naming the degree and the school as well as when you earned the degree is a good enough start. And of course, be more forthcoming if asked further questions.
Or you could go the opposite route, and make sure the employer is aware that your degree came from one of the many online colleges operating today. This is a good way to make the most of your online education. By pointing out how you worked and earned a degree you can show your organizational skills, your drive and your talent in one fell swoop.
You can also use the opportunity to make sure the employer realizes how online college degree programs require you to be familiar with your computer, programs like word processing and possibly spreadsheets, and any other software you’ve learned. Don’t forget your ability to use search engines efficiently and find information you need, as well as the self-discipline to do the work when no instructor is looking over your shoulder. You can use your online degree to show your employer that you’re someone they want on their team.
To get even more from your choice of accredited online schools, become an active member of the school’s alumni association. You can talk to prospective students if you wish, as well as get any bulletins or newsletters from the school, find out about networking opportunities and even get notice of available jobs in your field.
The bottom line is that if you want a degree and you want to be able to work while you earn it, online colleges are almost certainly right for you. Find the right online college degree programs, and you’ll be able to succeed in enhancing your education while making yourself more valuable in the workplace.