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Should You Go to College Online? Six Questions to Ask Yourself First

Sep 22, 2010 Jennifer Williamson, Distance Columnist | 1 Comments

Online colleges offer distinct advantages to working students and those with family obligations. They allow you to take classes whenever and wherever you want, fitting your study time around the other commitments in your life.

But online colleges have some drawbacks as well. They require a high level of personal motivation—and graduates may face issues with high debt and negative employer perceptions about online degrees. These pitfalls can be avoided, however, by knowing your industry as well as yourself. Here are a few questions to ask—about yourself and about your school—before going to college online.

 Am I organized?

It’s almost too obvious to say, but your level of organization will make a big difference in your success. If you’re like most prospective online students,
you’re interested in studying online because you’re also working or
taking care of a family full-time.

It takes strong organizational skills to juggle college, work and family responsibilities this way—and if you don’t have those skills, your grades could suffer.

Man Thinking with Computer

Know yourself, and whether you’re organized enough to handle an online program

Am I good at managing my own time?

Online university typically give students much less structured study time than traditional schools—and often you’ll get no structured study time at all. In addition to being organized, you’ll need to be adept at managing your own time and strict about setting aside enough time every day or every week to study. If you can’t, it will definitely affect your performance at school.

Is my school for-profit or non-profit?

Online colleges can be categorized in several different ways. While some colleges offer only online degree programs, others offer both traditional and online degrees. Both can be regionally accredited and both may offer an excellent education. But some for-profit schools have come into some question lately because of their comparatively high costs and high debt rates for new graduates, lack of credibility with employers, and other issues. If these are issues of concern for you, consider earning your degree with a well-known traditional school that offers degree programs online as well.

Is my program entirely or partially online?

Some programs, such as online nursing programs, require an in-person component—whether that’s a lab, a residency, or some traditional classroom time. Be aware of your online degree program’s level of expectation for in-person time. Some online programs will allow you to complete your in-person requirement in a facility near where you live. 

What do employers think of my school?

Opinions of employers regarding online degrees can vary widely, depending on your industry and the individuals involved. Some industries, particularly cutting-edge marketing and high-tech industries, are very open to online degrees. Some employers encourage their staff to return to school for MBA’s, Masters degrees, and certifications online—and may even reimburse tuition. But other sectors, particularly very traditional areas such as law, medicine and academics, are more resistant to online degrees.

Before deciding to earn an online degree program, talk to some people in the industry where you’re planning to work. Get a sense of the overall perception of the school you plan to attend as well as online degrees in general.

Is my school accredited?

In most cases, your online college should be regionally accredited. In some cases, your school or program should also hold a national or professional accreditation related to your job or industry. Some industries, particularly those that are regulated by government licensure or certification, require students to graduate from a program with a particular professional accreditation before sitting for the certification or licensing test. Research your industry’s requirements and be sure the school you choose is accredited—and fulfills the requirements of your state as well as your industry.

Can I transfer my credits?

If your goals include transferring college credits from an online program to a traditional school, be sure it’s possible before you sign up. Some traditional schools are reluctant to accept credits from online degree programs, while others may not accept credits from for-profit schools. Check with the school you plan to transfer to and get a sense of whether they’re willing to accept transfer credits—before you make a final decision about an online college.

Online degree programs present certain challenges to students. But employer acceptance is increasing, as well as student awareness of debt. Choose a school that won’t burden you with a high debt load after graduation and one that your industry and potential employers respect. Know yourself—and know whether you’re organized enough to handle a highly unstructured program. With this preliminary research, you should be able to avoid many of the pitfalls specific to online education.


Tolana Over a year ago

Some other items to take into consideration would be:
- How comfortable/familiar are you with using a computer for viewing class and doing homework?
- Are you good at reading comprehension? Online courses sometimes have more reading than face-to-face.
- How motivated are you? This is sort of tied to how well you manage your time. However, if you're highly motivated to take online courses (because of a deadline, the need to retrain or switch careers) then you are more likely to put a lot of effort into your courses. If class is not a priority, you may not make enough time to do well, even if you are usually good at time management.

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