If there’s a characteristic driving online innovation, it’s convenience. The Internet enables users to shop, find a girlfriend and get a college degree without changing out of their pajamas. Not everything is as it seems, however, and these long distance achievements don’t always deliver on their promises.
T-shirt orders mysteriously disappear, girlfriends turn out to not exactly exist (ahem, Mr. Te’o) and online college programs fail to deliver the robust, hands-on education they promise.
There’s no need to swear off the Internet all-together, however. The benefits of online college programs are undeniable. Flexible classes that allow students to work from home cater to students with families or full time jobs.
They’re even convenient for those looking to go back as far as attaining their high school diploma or GED for students that didn’t finish or are in families that travel. With the right program, real-life support and applicable curriculum, online college can put you on path to career success. Consider these characteristics when choosing an online college.
The Right Program
In some ways, choosing an online school is easier than choosing a brick and mortar college. There’s no need to consider whether you want to live near the beach or the city (the Internet looks pretty much the same in Los Angeles as it does in New York City), so your decision comes down to finding the right program.
Often times, you’ll hear arguments that online college degrees can lack accreditation, a certification that ensures that the program has competency, authority and credibility. Enlist in an accredited program to ensure a quality education.
Without the need to consider location, online programs enable students to pursue specifically tailored programs. If you imagine yourself assisting in the surgery and care of animals then a Veterinary Technology program would be a good fit for your education needs.
Or, if interested in examining the mental health of court defendants, look into forensic psychology programs, where you’ll get a basic psychology education as well as tools to enter the field of forensic psychology might be the better choice.
The more specific a program is, the better chance you’ll have of making connections and landing a job in that field. Take advantage of remote learning and find an online program that will help you achieve your dream.
Virtual Classes … Real Teachers
If learning was just about watching slideshows and reading books, a degree would be no more useful than a quick Google search. Educational growth is the product of the relationship between students and teachers. Online programs are no different. The lessons might be virtual, but hands-on teachers that offer personal availability and feedback will foster real learning.
When searching for a program, find out the classroom ratio and how students can get in touch with teachers directly. At a bare minimum, teachers should conduct office hours during which they respond to student emails. Tech-savvy schools support student-teacher video chats, further re-creating a live classroom experience.
The quality of your online education will not only largely depend on how much you want to learn, but equally on how much your instructors invest in your learning.
Inexpensive But Not Cheap
Total student debt in the United States recently topped $1 trillion, according to Finaid.org. Virtual schools offer higher education without some of the mounting cost.
Online colleges remove the cost of parking, housing and building maintenance, but that doesn’t mean they’re cheap; and that’s not a bad thing. Hiring top teaching talent, setting up a reliable sophisticated virtual platform and fulfilling the requirements to become accredited costs money.
Rather than settling for the cheapest online degree, find a program that promises to further your career. Consider using the flexibility of an online school to work part-time, which will enable you to cover additional costs. In the long run, you’ll be you glad you enlisted in a program that didn’t take shortcuts.
John Reese is an educator who writes for the American Educational Guidance Center.