What to Look for in an Online College

Choosing an online school takes as much time and effort as choosing a traditional school. You have to weigh your options and figure out what is best for you now and in the future. Applying for financial aid, filling out applications, writing essays—no step goes unchecked. But there a few considerations to keep in mind when researching online colleges and universities.

First, it’s important to note that an online college provides the same education as a brick and mortar school. The classes are no less academically challenging. You’ll learn from experienced professors and engage in dynamic discussions with your classmates. The obvious difference is the medium for delivery. Instead of face-to-face instruction, learning takes place from your home computer.

So before you begin your search for an online college, let’s review what you should look for, look out for, and why.

Accreditation – The Most Important Ingredient

If you’re not familiar with the term “accreditation,” you will be soon enough. Accreditation is the process of evaluating the quality of education by the higher education community. Basically, a school must meet certain standards in order to be eligible, and maintain, accreditation. These standards address several key organizational functions such as faculty qualifications, student resources, curriculum, student to staff ratio, and student learning outcomes.

It’s important to note that accreditation is a voluntary process. Not all schools choose to participate. But consider the opt-out a red flag. If a school is not accredited, it might be a diploma mill. A diploma mill is a substandard institution that operates without supervision. These institutions sell useless credentials. The chances of getting a job with an unaccredited degree are slim to none.

Take a look at your list of potential colleges, and check to see if they are accredited by visiting the sites below:

Financial Assistance

Not all schools offer financial assistance, such as scholarships, grants, and student loans. If you need help with financing, make sure your school of choice offers assistance. If not, the school may not be accredited.

Once you’ve verified the school’s accreditation status, start a FAFSA application. The financial aid process is pretty complex and time consuming so you’ll want to get the ball rolling. If you’re interested in scholarships, search online for resources, but know this: Watch out for scams. Visit reputable sites such as:

Years in Service

The age of the school often correlates with student success. The longer the school has existed, the better. Online colleges are still a new phenomenon, making it difficult to gage its worth. But a few schools have been around since the early 1990s. Take some time to read about the school’s history, its inception and achievements. Learn about its alumni, faculty backgrounds, and notable accomplishments. If you can’t find much info on this stuff, you might question the college’s reputation.

Other Considerations

Remember, gather as much information as possible. Don’t stop with just accreditation status and scholarship opportunities. This is your college education so take it seriously, don’t hesitate to do a little extra research, and make it a priority. Below are a few additional considerations to keep in mind when researching online colleges:

  • Number of Students
  • Program Offerings
  • Awards and Recognition
  • Graduation Rate
  • Clubs and Activities
  • Alumni Network
  • Support Services
  • Research Opportunities
  • Career Services

Accredited Online Colleges & Universities

Purdue University
Purdue University » One of the biggest name brands in online education, Purdue University offers associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees in a wide variety of fields. For those professionals that demand further expertise in a specific area, Purdue offers certificates in education, business, information technology, arts and sciences, healthcare, nursing, criminal justice, and law.
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Ashford University
Ashford University » Ashford University features a campus located in Clinton, Iowa and a full offering of online degrees, so students have the option to select the style of learning that's right for them. The university offers Associate's, Bachelor's, and Master's degrees in more than 50 programs. Ashford U is accredited by WASC Senior College and University Commission, 985 Atlantic Ave, Ste 100, Alameda, California 94501, (510) 748-9001, wascsenior.org.
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Liberty University
Liberty University » The distance learning division of Liberty University offers over 35 degree programs from the associates to doctoral level. The online program runs unilaterally with the on-campus semester program. Students rave about the university's Christ-centered learning. It's mission is to promote both the intellectual and spiritual development of its students.
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St Leo University
St Leo University » Founded in 1889, St Leo University specializes in higher education for working professionals. The university boasts an enrollment of over 60,000. Accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, the university features campuses across the USA, for those looking for a more traditional approach.
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Walden University
Walden University » Offering degrees at the Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, Master of Business Administration, Master of Public Administration, Master of Public Health, Ed.S., Ed.D., D.B.A., and Ph.D. levels, Walden University is quickly becoming a leader in online education. The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.
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Southern New Hampshire University
Southern New Hampshire University » Southern New Hampshire University offers undergraduate and graduate programs both online and at the campus. This adds another layer of flexibility and convenience for students to use to their advantage. Moreover, SNHU uses results-focused curriculum to help students obtain the knowledge needed to conduct tasks and responsibilities in their chosen careers.
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Grand Canyon University
Grand Canyon University » Founded in 1949, Grand Canyon University provides online and on-campus learning in such fields as education, liberal arts, business, and healthcare through the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Doctoral Studies, the College of Education, the College of Fine Arts and Production, the College of Nursing, and the Ken Blanchard College of Business.
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Boston University
Boston University » Boston University boosts six Nobel Prize winners, and numerous Guggenheim and MacArthur fellows. The university offers bachelor's, master's, doctoral, medical, and dental degrees through 18 schools and colleges on two campuses. Boston U offers 75 study abroad programs in over 33 cities for the enterprising student with programs available online.
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Herzing University
Herzing University » Herzing University is in a unique position to offer its students a dynamic online learning environment. Herzing is able to provide the resources found on a traditional college campus, including mentoring and tutoring support, library and research databases, career service counselors, and academic advisors.
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Northcentral University
Northcentral University » Northcentral University (NCU) is an online university founded in 1996 with the goal of providing accessible, high-quality, and relevant degree options to working professionals. NCU prides itself on its unique "One-to-One Teaching Model", in which one member of NCU’s 100% doctoral faculty is paired with one student in every course, to create a more personalized education experience. The University offers degrees ranging from bachelor’s to doctorate in the following areas: Business and Technology Management, Education, Marriage and Family Sciences, and Psychology.
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