Online Degrees: What You Need to Know

College tuition costs are heading sky-high, and not every college student wannabe has the money or the time for expensive, traditional higher education options. An alternative can be an online degree that you can pursue at your own pace to achieve your career goals. Here’s what you need to know:

*Accreditation makes the difference between a legitimate program and a diploma mill, and more employers are considering online degrees because they are accredited and show discipline in a potential employee. Look for an accreditation statement before you buy. Accrediting bodies like Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities or the Western Commission on Colleges and Universities are recognized by the US Department of Education and ensure that you are getting a quality education. In addition, your area of study may also have an accrediting body. For example, if you are studying nursing, look for accreditation from the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education. Accreditation also helps you secure students loans and a job when your degree is complete.

*Understand the cost of tuition. Some online degrees are not cheap, and some may require you to be on campus for certain classes. This means that travel and housing while you are on campus can add to your cost.

*Know what you need and make sure the program you choose offers it. Many online schools offer a combination of degrees, certificates and licensing courses. Don’t make the mistake of signing up for a certificate course, thinking you are going to get an Associates degree.

*Read online college reviews with a grain of salt. An online degree seems like an easy way to get a degree, but it takes discipline from the get-go. People get excited about the program and sign up without having a good understanding of the program commitments and then are disappointed in the results. 

*Stay motivated. Have a plan as to how you will arrange your life around studying. Not everyone who pursues this type of education finishes the program and are then dismayed when they realize they still have to pay back the student loans.

*Do not be shocked if your previous class credits do not transfer from a traditional college. Online classes have very specific objectives, and if your previous classes did not fully meet those objectives, you will have to take the required courses for your degree/certificate.

*Keep track of your classes. Although you may be assigned a mentor or an advisor, it is up to you to make sure you understand the degree or certificate requirements and that you are on track to graduate. Check in frequently with your school to make sure that the program and graduation requirements have not changed. It is very easy to miss a crucial email announcement when you study online.

*Realize that online learning is only one part of the continuous process of life-long learning. Many employers will still require you to attend workshops, get continuing education credits or units, and renew licenses to stay current in your field.