Understanding Online College Degree Programs

Graduation cap keyboard key on laptop

Making the decision to pursue higher education is the first step in choosing the right program, degree and field of study that will help you advance professionally. Then comes the important decision of choosing whether a traditional or an online education is optimal for you. In recent years, online education programs have been increasing in scope, complexity, availability and recognition. There are numerous online college programs offering a wide range of academic and professional training programs which can serve as the next step towards a rewarding, lucrative and promising career.

What to Look for in Online Education

Perhaps the greatest advantage of an online education is the flexibility it offers in terms of schedules. However, choosing an online degree program and an online institution from the myriad choices requires that you ask the right questions and do a little research.

Some of the questions to ask are:

  • Is the college accredited?
  • What degrees does the college offer?
  • What programs are available?
  • Does this program grant a recognized qualification in the job market?
  • What are the school’s resources post-graduation (career counseling, job placement, etc.)?
  • What are the payment options?
  • Are there scholarships, grants or loans available for students with limited financial means?

These are all questions that should be asked prior to starting a degree program. Having this valuable knowledge will enable you to make an informed decision about what programs could be best for you in the short, medium, and long term.

The Importance of Accreditation

When you are deciding on an online education program, it is important to make sure the online college or online university you select is accredited. An accredited institution means it is granted recognition by a supervisory body demonstrating that it maintains suitable standards of student outcomes. Accreditation is given on the regional and national levels by both non-governmental and governmental agencies. These accrediting agencies are private educational associations, which develop evaluation criteria and conduct peer evaluations to ensure that these criteria are being met by individual educational institutions. Finally, for certain programs such as in the medical field, ask if the degree program is programmatically accredited or approved by the appropriate agencies. A degree from an accredited institution and program, is usually required for most state licenses for many fields, such as nursing, allied health, and education.

Check Which Credentials You Need

Your goals determine what credentials you will need. It is useful to sit down with a trusted friend or colleague, or perhaps a professional career counselor, to determine your work goals. Once you have decided whether you need an advanced degree, a certificate, or another form of training to work in that field or role, you can narrow down your choice by seeing what each institution offers.

Setting Goals and Selecting an Appropriate Program

The first step in choosing a program is to set your goals and decide on your area of interest. Once you know what credentials your goals require, start scouting for an online degree program that will help you meet those goals. Depending on what you wish to achieve, you may only need a certificate or associate degree. However, if your goal is to work in a field that requires expanded credentials, then you will need to look at graduate school and have a long-term educational plan. Once you have decided on a degree program, look for online schools that specialize in your field.

Figuring Out Which Features Are Important for You

One significant aspect to explore when searching for an online program is the type of interaction within the program. For example, is the online program exclusively at a distance, is it all through written communication or does it also require occasional in-person, or virtual meetings with faculty or group discussions? Does the school have a physical campus with options for traditional classes and face-to-face interaction with instructors, as well as on-site career counseling? Determining whether these are important factors to you is a key to making the right choice. Are you comfortable with a learning approach that is entirely online and self-driven? You need to decide what environment will be best for your personality, goals, and needs, and then find a school and program that meets those needs.

Covering Costs: Work-Study, Tuition and Financial Aid

Most potential students wonder how they can afford to pursue higher education or go back to school after already being in the job market. Before choosing an online education program, research the cost of tuition and fees, as well as payment options.

Some schools have resource fees as well as the cost of materials and textbooks, which are not included in the tuition. Select schools may cost slightly more but textbooks and other materials are included in the price of tuition. There are also numerous forms of financial aid, including Pell grants, loans, veterans’ benefits and scholarships. Many online colleges and universities also have specially designed payment plans and course scheduling that intends to help students pay as they go to avoid going into debt. An education is an investment. Choose the school that will bring you the best returns possible on that worthwhile investment.

Ask Questions Now to Prepare Best for the Future

Choosing an online college degree program is a big decision, but one that can lead to many advantages. Be sure to ask the right questions from the start in order to best plan for your future. Florida National University offers a range of online college degree programs across a variety of fields. What are you waiting for? Contact an FNU career advisor today to get started on your path to success.