In an increasingly competitive and specialized job market, it is important for job seekers to remain innovative within professional development. With the help of the ever-expanding influence of the Internet, continual education has become a key component of long-term success, allowing individuals to supplement their career expertise without taking time away from their jobs. As such, online degree programs have become increasingly popular avenue in which lifelong learners can broaden their skill sets and advance in their careers. However, not all online degree programs are created equal. There are several crucial factors to keep in mind when choosing the right online program to help you achieve your career goals.
Accreditation is a means of ensuring that colleges and universities provide education that meets with recognized standards of quality. An online degree from an accredited institution not only ensures you will receive the most up-to-date and comprehensive education in your field, but also signals to potential employers that you are qualified to perform duties essential to your role. Schools that offer online programs typically feature relevant accreditations on their websites and in their recruitment efforts; however, you should always be wary of the possibility of illegitimate credentials. It is crucial that you research any accrediting bodies while selecting an online degree program and make sure they are recognized by the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. The Department of Education provides the College Navigator tool via their website, giving applicants the ability to verify the accreditation of the colleges and universities they are considering.
When selecting an online degree program, it is important to consider the reputation of the school. Colleges and universities that have been around for many decades—or even centuries—enjoy established reputations that grant considerable value through name recognition alone to the online degree programs they offer. Institutions with shorter histories are more difficult to evaluate, making it crucial for prospective students to explore newer schools’ relationships with the local and educational communities, as well as alumni, professional associations and employers.
A main factor of a school’s overall professional reputation are the statistics surrounding on-time graduation rates. According to tuition financing resource StraighterLine, each extra year spent at a public four-year college can cost upwards of $22,000 – money most people do not have to throw around. A quality online program will allow you to complete your degree at your own pace and in accordance with your own schedule, which may permit you to earn your degree in less time and for less money. Beyond financial considerations, a poor on-time graduation rate may indicate a lack of academic support for students, which is especially discouraging for individuals in an online program. Look for schools with healthy graduation statistics and strong post-graduation employment rates.
Curriculum, Concentrations and Competitiveness
In order to complete an online degree so that you are not wasting your time and money, it is recommended that applicants thoroughly research program curricula. Once you know what field of study you will pursue, make sure any programs you consider feature a solid blend of general education credits, fundamental courses and relevant electives that will teach you practical skills relative to your area of interest.
Many online degree programs offer concentrations, which allow students to develop a focus of study within their broader overall education. For example, a student in Norwich University’s online Bachelor of Science in Cyber Security program might consider customizing his or her degree with a concentration in Computer Forensics and Vulnerability Management. The specialization afforded by a degree concentration can help students stand out from other applicants when applying for jobs and may qualify them for further opportunities. Overall, individuals considering an online degree program should request and evaluate a degree plan prior to enrollment to ensure that the curriculum aligns with his or her career goals.
Costs & Financial Aid
No two online degree programs are the same, and as such, the cost of these programs can vary widely. Prospective students should thoroughly evaluate the cost of each program of interest to ensure that there are no hidden fees. A reputable online program may come with extra costs for lab fees, but all colleges should always be transparent about their expenses.
In financing an education, prospective students should consider schools that accept several forms of financial aid, such as the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), military tuition assistance and Veterans benefits, or tuition discounts through partner programs the school may have. However, students should be warned that tuition assistance is not equivalent to an “affordable” education. In fact, loans with high interest are often difficult to pay back in a timely manner and can hamper the success students have worked so hard to attain. As always, it is crucial for prospective students to speak with admissions advisors in order to determine whether a certain degree program is affordable and can help the student achieve his or her career goals without leveraging financial security.
Transfer Credit & Support
It is important to know up front what your prospective school can do for you. In order to minimize cost and avoid taking on unnecessary student debt, it is prudent for prospective students to research their schools’ transfer credit policies. Prior credit for college classes, professional development courses and even military training may accelerate the completion of an online degree, saving students valuable time and money.
While the convenience and flexibility of online learning makes for an appealing alternative to classroom-based instruction, it is not without its challenges. Individuals considering an online program should contact the school’s support services well before classes start, beginning with information technology support in order to ensure that the student’s computer, operating system and internet capabilities meet the minimum technological requirements for operation. Subsequently, reaching out to an academic advisor to map out the appropriate sequence of courses for completing a degree within a reasonable timeframe can be extremely helpful in setting expectations and long-term goals for the program. Finally, it is advisable that prospective students reach out to career services to get a sense of what assistance is available with regards to professional development, online resources, and career planning.
Online degree programs are the wave of the future, giving individuals from around the globe access to quality education that can unlock myriad educational, personal and professional opportunities. That said, it is up to prospective students to diligently research each school to assess the legitimacy of the associated online degree programs and determine whether or not that institution will allow individuals to achieve their career goals without sacrificing quality, time and money. As the viability and scope of online degree programs continue to grow to meet the needs of lifelong learners, the competition between schools will only become fiercer—and prospective students must be willing to play an active role in separating the wheat from the chaff.
As the nation’s oldest private military college, Norwich University has been a leader in innovative education since 1819. Through its online programs, Norwich delivers relevant and applicable curricula that allow its students to make a positive impact on their places of work and their communities.
At Norwich University, we extend a tradition of values-based education, where structured, disciplined, and rigorous studies create a challenging and rewarding experience. Our online programs have made our comprehensive curriculum available to more students than ever before.
Online Degree Programs: How to Tell the Good From the Bad, U.S. News & World Report
Financial Aid for Online Schools, Accredited Online Schools
How to Choose an Accredited Online College in 10 Easy Steps, StraighterLine
College Navigator, National Center for Education Statistics
Consult Student Services Before Starting an Online Degree, U.S. News & World Report
Tips for Choosing the Best Online Degree For You, My College Guide
5 Advantages of Online Learning, Digital Marketing Institute