Earning a degree online has gone from a novelty to a necessity for many students today. Between work, family obligations, and other responsibilities, more and more learners simply can’t adhere to traditional on-campus programs. Thankfully, technological advancements have enabled a wide array of accredited colleges and universities to offer full degree programs through distance learning.
With endless options now available, how should students evaluate online degree programs to find the right fit? There are several key factors to consider when researching and comparing online offerings.
This guide outlines six important things prospective students should consider when exploring online degree options. Carefully evaluating programs in these critical areas will empower students like yourself to make a wise investment that furthers their educational and professional goals through the flexibility of online learning.
1) Academic Program and Curriculum:
The most important factor in choosing an online degree is evaluating the academic program itself—its structure, content, and delivery. The curriculum should match your interests and career goals.
Examine program descriptions, course requirements, formats, and outcomes. See if the degree aligns with your goals based on the following:
- Subject focus and specializations
- Course content and syllabi
- Credit hours and program length
- Instruction formats (live, recorded, etc.)
- Learning modalities (lectures, discussions, etc.)
- Assessments and grading approaches
- Research, internships, or practicums
Compare curriculum across potential programs. Reach out to current students for academic insights.
For example, when evaluating MBA programs, compare areas like business core competencies, specialized tracks, research projects, and practical applications. So, you could check out the online MBA program at Nexford, where you can review components like required credits, courses, and formats to determine the best fit.
The academic experience should match your learning preferences and aspirations. Examine curriculum specifics to see if a program delivers the knowledge and skills you aim to acquire.
The key is to closely evaluate academic programs for the curriculum, learning experience, and outcomes that best meet your personal goals and interests. This will help ensure you select a rewarding online degree program.
2) Faculty and Instructor Quality:
While a curriculum may look robust on paper, the faculty behind any program strongly impact its quality and student outcomes. The teaching skills, expertise, and qualifications of professors require close examination.
Faculty profiles on university websites can provide helpful initial insight into an instructor’s background and competencies. However, don’t stop there. Also, research faculty in the following areas:
- Educational credentials and research
- Professional and industry expertise
- Teaching experience, especially online
- Ratings and reviews from current students
- Level of faculty interaction and accessibility
Ideally, most core faculty should have doctoral degrees in their field from accredited institutions. They should actively produce research and hold industry certifications or distinguished experience. Review ratings to confirm professors have a strong teaching record, especially in the online environment.
Top programs also emphasize faculty accessibility and student engagement. Look for consistent interaction opportunities like weekly live classes, required check-ins, collaborative projects, and open virtual office hours.
A degree is only as good as the faculty responsible for shaping and assessing student learning. Scrutinize instructors’ qualifications to determine if a program provides expert academic and professional mentoring.
3) Accreditation and Reputation:
No quality indicators hold more weight than proper accreditation when evaluating online colleges and degree programs. Accreditation provides assurance that standards for academic rigor, operational effectiveness, and student outcomes are being met. It also ensures credits can transfer to other accredited institutions.
Students should verify three areas of accreditation for any virtual program they’re considering:
- Institutional Accreditation: Confirm the college or university as a whole is accredited by a recognized regional or national accrediting body.
- Program-Specific Accreditation: Many fields like business, engineering, medicine, and law require program-specific accreditation that governs curriculum, facility standards, graduate exams, and the ability to earn licenses, certifications, or board approval after graduation.
- Course-Level Accreditation: Individual courses may hold accreditation for content quality and employer recognition, like APICS for supply chain management courses or PMI for project management.
Additionally, investigate overall reputation by researching program rankings, community feedback, and third-party ratings. Look for reputable industry endorsements and employer relationships as well.
4) Student Support Services:
While online programs offer schedule flexibility, they still require discipline and effort. Students who flourish virtually have adequate administrative, academic, and technical support.
Compare the student services available across target schools. Well-designed online degrees provide resources like:
- Enrollment advising and program guidance
- Orientations for online learning success
- Time management and study skills coaching
- Access to library, databases, and research assistance
- Tutoring, writing centers, and subject-matter experts
- Technical help desk for the platform and IT issues
- Disability, counseling, healthcare, and other life services
- Peer networking through messaging platforms and clubs
Look for responsive teams and tools to help troubleshoot any challenge, from a failed test to a hard drive crash. Robust support provides peace of mind and helps students maximize outcomes.
5) Cost and Financial Aid Options:
The convenience of online education does come at a price. Carefully compare full costs across prospective schools and degrees. Analysis should look at:
- Basic tuition fees per program and credit hour
- Estimated cost for the entire program length
- Itemized additional costs like application fees, books, software, and supplies
- Payment options—pay-per-course, monthly installments, etc.
- Financial aid availability—loans, grants, and scholarships
- GI Bill benefits for military students
- Employer education subsidies
Weigh total value versus total costs to identify affordable options that align with budget realities. Evaluate all pricing factors and financing alternatives to find the best educational value.
6) Career Assistance and Placement:
A major incentive for pursuing any degree is enhanced professional opportunities. Online programs should provide ample career development resources and active alumni networks.
Explore virtual job search assistance offered, like:
- Individual career coaching and advising
- Resume, cover letter, and interview prep
- Portfolio and profile building
- Skills assessments and evaluations
- Job boards and employer introductions
- Industry presentations and recruiting events
- Internship or apprenticeship facilitation
- Certification exam guidance
- Salary and benefits negotiation tactics
Vetting career impact demonstrates an online program’s real return on investment.
Earning a degree online doesn’t have to compromise academic excellence or student experience. Thoughtful program selection and comparison empower students to maximize value while minimizing investment risks and frustrations. Do your research to pick a great online school capable of preparing you for success in work and life. With sound information and planning, virtual learning can open doors to advancing your career and expanding your horizons.