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How Rigorous is Your Online Degree?

Mar 26, 2012 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 0 Comments

Not all online degree programs are the same. Some are extremely rigorous—sometimes more so than equivalent traditional classes. Others, not so much. The more rigorous your degree, however, the better you’ll learn the subject matter—and the more prepared you’ll be for the real world. Rigor of degree is definitely something you should consider when choosing a program. Here are a few things to look for.

It takes an appropriate amount of time to earn

There are a few colleges that offer three-year, accelerated online bachelor’s programs. In a few states, including Rhode Island and Indiana, state governments have introduced three-year Bachelor’s programs at public colleges in order to keep costs under control. However, these programs are not the norm. In addition, a three-year Bachelor’s program is generally expected to be considerably more rigorous than a four-year degree, because you’ll be fitting all the same studies and classes from the longer program into a condensed time period.  If your college is offering three-year degrees, investigate carefully before signing up.

You learn in a variety of formats

Woman Learning On Computer

Not all online degree programs are the same. Some are extremely rigorous—sometimes more so than equivalent traditional classes.

Your online college degree program shouldn’t just expect you to read articles and write papers. There’s a wide variety of learning formats out there to accommodate every style—and your school should be relying on that. Look for programs that offer podcasts, videocasts, and a variety of interactive online applications to help you learn. In addition, look for programs that get you using software that’s applicable to your field—whether that’s Excel or AutoCAD or Dreamweaver. The stronger your technical skills in these areas, the stronger your resume will be.

Projects are the appropriate length

There may not be an “appropriate” length for every project beyond the professor’s preferences. But a graduate-level dissertation should be more than ten pages long. If your professors aren’t insisting on a length of report that allows you room to go in-depth on a particular topic, they’re short-changing you. See if you can contact some professors from the school to get a sense of their expectations and assignments, or talk to students and alumni.

The school, department, or program is recognized by the right people

Your school should be accredited by the appropriate regional agency. Beyond that, there may be appropriate, well-regarded national accreditors or industry certification bodies who should accredit your program, even if it’s not required by law. In some professions, training programs need to be licensed by the state where you plan to work. Do some research to find out about desirable certifications and accreditations as well as legally-required licensure before signing up.

You get hands-on experience

One of the drawbacks critics of online education point to is that it doesn’t provide hands-on experience you may get in the classroom. The response to this criticism is that in a quality online program, you get the hands-on experience you need. For example, an online nursing program should work with hospitals in your area to get you in-person lab and clinical experience. An online degree program should provide creative assignments that get you applying your skills in a meaningful hands-on way—even if your final presentation is online.

Go beyond asking your admissions representative at the school to find the answers to these questions. Ask current students and alumni—check out online forums and resources such as the online college review page, which collects candid student and alumni feedback. Talk to professors as well—see if you can contact professors directly through your school’s website. The more due diligence you do beforehand, the more likely it is that you’ll find the right school to help you meet your professional goals.



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