Choosing an Online University
Going back to school is something that many adults in the workforce have been forced to consider as industries evolve rapidly. Degrees that got them in the door twenty years ago are no longer applicable to the type of work they must be prepared to do, and total career changes are becoming more popular later in life. But going to school while working would be next to impossible for many adults, who also must balance raising their families. To this end, going to school online has become a very popular choice for many students.
Online universities allow students to attend classes anywhere, and often on their own schedules. This makes it much easier for working adults to live their lives as usual, and fit school in where they can make the time. But just as with a standard university, choosing an online school must be done carefully. Just because it’s all online doesn’t mean there isn’t a specific school “culture” that can make or break your time there. Here are some things to consider when looking into online universities.
The first, most important thing to ask is if the school offers the degree you want. Most online universities focus on business roles, like accounting and administration; healthcare, like nursing and pharmacy management; and various social services, like criminal justice programs or social work. Recently, information technology degrees have also become standard for online schools. To find degrees outside those areas, you may have to do some searching. Local or state universities probably have the most variety to offer, but their programs may not be 100% online; you may have to visit the campus for a few hours a month or a week in order to be enrolled.
Accreditation is a very important factor in choosing an online university. If you choose a nontraditionally, totally online university, be absolutely sure that your company, or the industry you plan to move to, accepts their diploma. There are many horror stories of major online schools, like University of Phoenix, offering accredited degrees, only for students to find out (thousands of dollars later) that restrictions applied, making their degrees utterly useless. Call the recruiter or hiring manager of a company you hope to work for, or one that operates within the industry you want to work in, and ask them if they would hire someone with a degree from the school you are considering.
Paying for school is likely to be your next largest concern. Some schools offer lower tuitions than others, and some schools are known for having better financial aid services than others. It’s a good idea to take a look around the Internet for reviews from students, to get a feel for how financial aid is handled. Always be sure you pay attention to the fine print on dropping out or cancelling your registration; some universities will charge students the full price of a class, even if they dropped it weeks before the class started.
Finally, be sure that the school uses a learning model that you are comfortable with. Some universities, like Capella, offer students a program that allows them to work entirely on their own, and at their own pace. Others, like Phoenix, require students to work in small groups, to build the teamwork abilities that are important in the job force. If you choose to enroll in a local school, you may find that you have better access to professors, tutors, and aides, simply because you have the ability to visit the physical school if necessary.
No matter which online university you choose, always be sure to read your contracts carefully, and to maintain close contact with the financial aid office throughout your entire program for best results.