How do I Know if Online College is Right For Me?

online-degreesMany colleges and universities recognize that today’s students are busy balancing work, school and family responsibilities and offer online degrees as a way to meet changing needs. Distance learning programs can be found offered by traditional campus-based institutions in addition to universities that only offer online courses. The convenience and flexibility of distance learning programs are appealing to a variety of students, but it is important to look at several factors before deciding if an online degree program is the right choice for the student.

Qualities of the Institution Offering Online Degrees

With so many options for pursuing a degree online, it can be confusing to know which institutions offer programs that will be respected by potential employers. Online programs must offer the same degree of rigor and strong academic standards provided by many traditional classroom-based institutions. In addition, distance learning programs should be accredited by regional organizations. This accreditation helps to ensure that the program meets the same minimum standards that traditional institutions are held to.

For students hoping to pursue careers in fields that require licensure, it is important to research the distance learning institution to ensure that the university’s program meets state licensure requirements. Programs that are approved or recommended by professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association or American Nurses Association are likely to meet state licensure requirements.

Qualities of the Student

Pursuing a degree online can be significantly different than pursing a degree from a traditional institution. Courses are often more flexible and don’t have strict deadlines, requiring the student to have excellent organization skills and motivation. Many students excel in distance learning programs but other students may require the structure of a more traditional approach.

U.S. News offers a list of qualities a student should possess in order to be successful in a distance learning environment. Students must be able to organize weeks of assignments ahead of time. While all graduate students must be able to organize research and assignment deadlines, distance learning students may have a significantly lower level of guidance and more flexible deadlines. This means that one must be able to look at the requirements for the entire course and be able to organize deadlines for six to ten weeks at a time, often for multiple courses at once. Distance learning students are also likely to have family and career obligations that need to be balanced at the same time.

Individuals must also be comfortable with technology in order to be successful in an online environment. Distance learning programs often use a variety of technology, from computers and tablets to webcams, message boards, online libraries, instant messaging and word processing programs. Very little work is likely to be done with paper and pencils and students must be able to navigate all aspects of an online course room.

Students must be comfortable with writing and learning from written content. Instead of lecture-style lessons, most distance learning programs provide educational content in video or text format. Rather than face-to-face discussions, responses to questions are also given in text format. Online learners often need to become very proficient writers in order to be successful.

Distance learning can be significantly different than pursuing a degree from a traditional institution. However, for many individuals, the convenience and flexibility of pursuing online degrees make distance learning a great choice for pursuing a college or graduate degree.