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Things to Consider Before Starting an Online Degree Program

There’s never been a better time to earn an online degree. Distance learning technology is constantly evolving, and most employers are very accepting of online degrees, viewing them to be just as credible as those earned in campus-based programs.
While it’s hard to beat the flexibility and convenience of earning your graduate degree online, it’s not a commitment to be taken lightly. Not everyone is cut out to be a “non-traditional” student. Some quiet reflection and soul-searching spent pondering these questions can help you decide if an online degree program is the next right step on your life path.

1) How much time can you give to an online school experience?

If you’re like most prospective graduate students, you’re juggling a full-time job and personal commitments to either your own young family and/or your aging parents.

Don’t let the thought of incorporating study time into your already busy schedule stop you! At most institutions, including online programs like the one at ACU Online, advisors are on hand to help walk you through the process and help you find ways to achieve your goals. You might also consider an online graduate program that lets you focus on one class at a time over a six- or seven-week term.

2) How’s your self-discipline?

Your ability to stick to a predetermined schedule, resist the temptation of distractions, and complete your coursework regardless of how you feel goes a long way in determining how successful you’ll be as an online learner. Staying motivated while taking online classes may feel like another full-time job if you’re not naturally organized and efficient. Find some time-management tools that work for you and designate a sacred study space that’s used for nothing else.

3) Can you ask for help when you need it?

Getting through an online graduate degree program successfully definitely takes a village when you’ve got an active family and a demanding career. You need to enlist the support of your partner, the understanding of your kids, and the patience of your employer.

Additionally, you need to establish solid relationships with your instructors so you’re comfortable seeking their assistance when you’re struggling with an assignment or a concept. If you’re often reluctant to let others know you need a hand, this is a great opportunity to practice asking for and accepting help. It also gives you countless opportunities to express gratitude for those who do support your educational efforts.

4) Do your career goals require a graduate degree right now?

Unless you’re absolutely sure that you need a master’s degree to reach your ultimate professional goals, give some thought to a graduate certificate program. Many online schools offer these certificates, and they can be quick, cost-effective alternatives to enrolling in graduate school before you’re totally ready.

The flexible online format provides you with condensed, specialized training in skills that are applicable to your career. You broaden your knowledge base and enhance your performance, which often leads to advancement opportunities in your current role as well as the option to transition into a new career.

Some programs, such as ACU’s online graduate certificate in conflict resolution, let you apply the coursework toward the Master of Arts in Conflict Management and Resolution should you decide to go on and pursue a graduate degree after all.

5) Is your prospective online school aligned with your personal values?

What kind of culture or worldview would a university need to have to mesh with your own ethics, morals, and values? If you’re going to stay engaged and motivated during your rigorous online graduate program, it’s imperative that you choose an institution that challenges you academically while also inspiring you emotionally and spiritually.

It was Abilene Christian University’s unique, Christ-centered community experience and the ability to meet face-to-face with a faculty member who might pray with her that convinced Master of Education in Higher Education graduate and ACU Online’s Student Service Operations Administrator, Megan Winn, that ACU was the school for her.

6) Is your top-choice school accredited?

Before you become too enthused about your online degree program, search the school’s website for the accreditation information. This refers to a process conducted by an outside authority that ensures your prospective online school and the degree program you’re considering meet certain quality standards. Accreditation is voluntary, and it has many benefits that include:

  • It validates the school’s credibility in the eyes of employers.
  • Accreditation is required for licensing criteria if your end goal is a professional license, such as teaching or counseling.
  • Credits earned in accredited programs are more likely to be accepted by other schools when students transfer.
  • Accreditation ensures that online students are eligible to receive federal financial aid in the form of grants, loans, and work-study.

Look for both regional and national accreditation, and learn more at the U.S. News website, which offers a great FAQ about the accreditation of online degree programs.

If you’re ready to join ACU Online’s vibrant, virtual, Christ-centered community and advance your career with a graduate degree or graduate certificate, we’d love to hear from you.

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