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7 Tips to Help You Choose an Online School

Ever wonder how many 100% online degree programs are out there? For 2019, Guide to Online Schools’ comprehensive list includes over 29,757 fully online degree programs. These include degrees at the associate, bachelor’s, master’s, doctoral and certificate levels. All are offered by universities and colleges accredited by agencies recognized by the Department of Education.
ACU certainly can’t quibble with the school shown in the No. 1 slot. We’re proud to be recognized by ranking organizations and publications, year after year, for our commitment to educating students for Christian service and leadership throughout the world. But, we do admit that sometimes we get alphabetically lucky.

The decision to invest in an online degree is a big one. You want to be confident that the school you choose will provide a good return on your time and investment. You also want to select a school that’s a suitable intellectual, emotional, and philosophical match for you.

There’s a lot to think about during the decision-making process. Use these tips to guide you.

1. Research the school’s history and reputation

Pick a school with a long history of providing quality education to ensure your degree has value. Many colleges and universities that were founded over a century ago now offer online degree programs. If you’re considering a newer institution, do some research on the school’s partnerships within the educational community and scope out the success of the alumni. Consult The Princeton Review and U.S. News and World Report’s annual Best Colleges rankings for insights on student satisfaction, quality of life, demographics and extracurricular activities.

2. Check out the faculty

One of the 16 key measures of quality in the 2019 U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings is number of faculty with a doctoral or terminal degree. The percentage of full-time faculty members with a doctorate or the highest degree possible in their field or specialty is a strong determiner of a school’s academic quality.

You want to learn from the best scholars and professionals in your field of interest. But you also want to be taught by professors who are passionate about transforming lives through learning. Do your due diligence carefully on the people you’ll be entrusting with your online education to be sure they’re both knowledgeable and approachable.

3. Explore student support services

Along with an admission advisor and financial aid advisor, does your prospective online school offer a student service advisor that will be with you from your first course through graduation? Is there someone you can always go to with questions about course registration or your academic goals? Do you have access to online tutoring or a writing center if you need help?
As an online student, you’ll probably experience occasional technical glitches. Maybe the video won’t play, or you can’t access your coursework. Does the school offer an easy-to-reach IT department dedicated to supporting online students?

4. Do you need a synchronous or asynchronous delivery format?

If you’ve got a busy life full of commitments to family and work, you probably want an asynchronous format. This kind of program lets you work at your own pace on your own schedule. Online programs that offer students the opportunity to participate in live classroom discussions offer what’s called synchronous format programs. These work great for students who have a more open and flexible daily schedule. If having to be online at a specific time is not always possible for you, choose the less stressful route of an asynchronous distance-learning program.

5. Understand the residency requirements

Some online degree programs are a combination of in-person classes and online coursework. These are called hybrid programs. They require you to travel to campus on a predetermined schedule to spend intensive learning time with your cohort and professors. Other programs are 100% online and don’t require any travel or in-person meetings.

Residency requirements vary from school to school and from program to program. While many students find that the residency experience is the highlight of their degree program, others can’t take the time away from current commitments to travel. Residencies also add unplanned or unforeseen costs to your program such as flights, car rentals, hotel rooms and meals.

6. Research financial aid options

The cost of online degree programs varies widely. Learn all you can about scholarships and grants available to you. Does the school offer merit-based aid awards? Are there special pay programs that let you make monthly payments throughout the year at 0% interest?

Make sure you take advantage of all the tuition discounts available to you.

7. Verify accreditation

Confirming the accreditation of the school is especially important with online education. Accreditation is your assurance that an institution or program provides a high-caliber education. It also convinces prospective employers that your degree has value when you interview for jobs.

In the U.S., colleges and universities are accredited by one of 19 recognized institutional accrediting organizations. These are private, non-governmental organizations.

The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) provides quality assurance to the U.S. Department of Education and to the general public. It lists four main reasons why it’s important to choose an accredited college or university:

  • Students who want federal (and sometimes state) grants and loans need to attend a college, university or program that is accredited.
  • Employers ask if a college, university or program is accredited before deciding to provide tuition assistance to current employees, evaluating the credentials of new employees or making a charitable contribution.
  • The federal government requires that a college, university or program be accredited in order to be eligible for federal grants and loans or other federal funds.
  • State governments require that a college, university or program be accredited when they make state funds available to students or institutions and when they allow students to sit for state licensure examinations in some professional fields.

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

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