Online degrees are becoming more popular. Approximately half of all college students are enrolled in online programs. Out of 5.5 million college students in the United States, 2.6 million are in entirely online programs, according to Department of Education data. Even students at traditional colleges are taking more classes online. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that one out of every four traditional college students takes at least one online course.
If you’re thinking about getting your degree online, you might have questions or reservations about whether online education is right for you. The following answers to commonly asked questions might help.
What are the benefits of going to college online?
Convenience: Online education is convenient if you have a laptop and an internet connection at home. Instead of commuting to class, you could be attending class from your living room.
Flexibility: Online programs tend to cater to the schedules of older adults who typically have jobs and families. If the only opportunity you have to do your schoolwork is after you get the kids off to school and before bed, you probably don’t have time to attend classes at a traditional college and will benefit from the flexibility of an online program.
Opportunity: While the more prestigious traditional colleges cater to kids fresh out of high school, many online programs primarily serve older adults. If you haven’t taken the SAT or the ACT in years, or you only got a GED, or your grades from high school ten years ago don’t accurately represent what you could accomplish today, you might struggle to get into many traditional schools but could be accepted into an online program.
Focus: At an online school, everyone is there with the common goal of getting a degree. No one is there to party, form social clubs, or otherwise get distracted from your goal.
For whom are online colleges best suited?
Older Adults: Statistics show that the majority of online college students are adults over the age of 25. Most of these adults work at least one job, are raising a family, or are deployed in the military.
Hard Workers: It’s a myth that online education is easier than traditional college. The classes use the same textbooks and are just as hard. In fact, your classes might be more challenging because many online classes are accelerated. Instead of taking a handful of classes each semester, some online colleges require students to take one six-week class at a time. You will need to be able to absorb and learn a lot of information quickly.
Self-Starters: You have to be able to motivate yourself to get your work done in any college situation. In an online program, it is of particular importance to be well organized and inspired to stay on top of your studies. In an accelerated college class, you won’t be able to keep your grades up if you fall behind.
How flexible will my schedule be?
Flexibility depends on which school you choose. Some online colleges require students to attend weekly webcasts or participate in video conferences at set times. Other colleges allow students to watch videos, read their textbooks, and complete assignments on their own schedules. That is, as long as things are turned in by the due date.
If flexibility is important to you, ask for detailed requirements from an admissions advisor before you enroll. Be aware that each professor might structure his class in a different way from the last. Also, the college’s format could change between your enrollment and graduation dates.
Will I be able to interact with instructors and peers?
Almost every online school will require students to post on discussion forums or otherwise interact with each other online. Online programs typically use classroom forums, web-based conferencing and chats, and other technological means for instructors and students to interact with each other. Online programs require instructors to be available to answer student’s questions, often by phone as well as email.
Data from: http://www.collegeatlas.org
What if I need help in a subject?
One of the downsides of online education is that it isn’t as easy to ask a fellow student or teacher for help. The more reputable online colleges offer online tutoring, but it can be challenging to learn certain subjects like algebra by chatting with someone over the internet. If you speak with your professor, she might be able to recommend additional learning resources. If you struggle with certain general education subjects online versus in the classroom, take those classes at a community college and transfer your credits.
Will an online program accept my transfer credits?
Generally, yes. But like traditional schools, you must have taken a class that’s comparable to what you would have learned at your online college. If a class you took is not similar to what you would need to take to fulfill your online school’s requirements, then you might only get an elective credit or might not get credit at all. Be sure to check with an admissions counselor to find out if you will be able to get proper credit before you transfer.
Are online colleges more affordable than traditional schools?
Not really. Affordability is a common myth. People think that since they’re not paying for a dorm room that they will save money. While this is occasionally the case, most online programs are just as expensive or more expensive than community college. Online programs usually charge a technology fee, plus you will still be required to buy books. The per-credit-hour cost varies by online school but is not going to be cheaper than what you would pay at a local public college. Make sure to ask questions about all the costs before you enroll.
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Can I get financial aid for an online program?
Yes. You can get financial aid from accredited colleges online. You will need to use the same Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) as you would use at a traditional school to apply for student loans and grants.
Will potential employers take my online degree seriously?
The answer to this question depends on a lot of factors, such as whether your online school has a good reputation and what line of work you are trying to pursue. If you plan to become a lawyer or a doctor, then you might have better luck getting into a good law or medical school by going to a traditional college. If your course of study typically requires internships, but your online school does not offer an internship, then potential employers may be less likely to hire you. Consider your future career prospects and your major carefully before choosing any college.