Distance learning is offered by many colleges and universities, with virtual online campuses offering a full slate of programs and courses to suit your professional and personal needs.
However, before you enroll in an online school, take time to consider your expectations, do some basic research, and find the right online school to fit your goals and your lifestyle.
1. Develop a list of reasons to choose distance learning. Why are you going back to school? Make a list of your educational and professional objectives to decide if online education fits your diverse goals. Why choose an online program rather than taking classes at the local university? One good reason is that online classes take the “distance” out of distance learning. You can take classes at the University of Houston, for example, even if you live in Maine! If cost is a factor (and it usually is), online courses tend to be less expensive. And you can usually choose your own class schedule, which can be a plus if you’re juggling work, family and school.
2. Make sure your school of choice is accredited. Not all online schools are. You may be able to obtain the training you need from a non-accredited online school, but you may not be able to transfer online credits to another school. Also, make sure the accrediting organization is legitimate. Use the Internet to research the accrediting agency, and make sure that agency is recognized by a state board of education or the U.S. Department of Education.
3. Read up on how tuition costs are paid. Some online universities charge by the credit hour, some by the semester, and some online schools expect payment in full before you’re enrolled. Choose a program that offers a payment option that won’t break the bank.
4. Check out scholarship options. Some online schools offer scholarships to help offset the cost of a degree. It’s often better to contact the university or college directly to make sure scholarship money is available, and that you have the right paperwork to apply.
5. Research the faculty. Before enrolling in an online program, conduct a search of faculty. Some instructors and the school website provide a syllabus listing what’s covered in each course.
6. Try before you buy. Many online universities let you audit classes free. You won’t receive credit for taking the course, but you can try out the experience before investing in further education.
7. Get good tech. Online courses often include real-time lectures, online exams, presentations, and homework. If you’re using a 10-year old computer and dial-up modem, you may not be able to complete your course work online.
8. Make a list of “must-have” purchases. There may be more than the cost of tuition associated with distance learning. You may have to purchase textbooks, a new printer, a new router, a new laptop, a web cam – take an inventory of what you have, determine what you need to buy, and assess whether you can afford to enroll right now.
9. Determine how much time you can devote each week to pursuing an online degree. You have a life. Taking online courses will impact that life, possibly causing stress. Don’t take on more coursework than you can handle.
10. Just how motivated are you to further your education? It can take a couple of years to obtain an advanced degree online. Chances are, you’ll work weekends and nights. Do you think you have the motivation to keep pressing on for months or even years? If you enroll in a program, pay the tuition, and discover that you don’t have the motivation to keep working, you’ve wasted your cash, and you won’t have that degree or accreditation.
Online learning is transforming the way we educate ourselves. However, it pays to be cautious when choosing the right online school for you. Research each school you consider before you start researching your first college paper.
The information provided is presented for general informational purposes only and does not constitute tax, legal or business advice.
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