How to Find the Right Online Degree Program
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If you want to be able to compete for the best positions in the modern job market, it’s essential to have a college degree.
College graduates often earn more and enjoy a higher employment rate than graduates of two-year programs or those with only a high school diploma. Job satisfaction tends to be better and having a higher education degree is associated with improved physical and mental well-being.
What do you do if you want to earn a degree, but your work schedule or family obligations conflict with the structure of traditional college programs? Online degrees offer an attractive alternative. These programs have been increasing in popularity for the past 15 years, and now more than 6.3 million people in the U.S. participate in at least one online course every semester. Between 2015 and 2016, online programs grew 5.6 percent, and the numbers continue to rise as students from all walks of life discover the perks of attending school online.
Why Choose an Online Degree?
Whether you’re going back to school later in life or are looking for something other than a traditional on-campus college experience, an online degree offers a variety of benefits. Many highly respected schools around the world now provide online degree programs, and more are adopting these options as time goes on. This gives you a wide range of choices for where to get your degree and allows you to attend any school regardless of location.
Since you don’t have to commute to school or keep a set class schedule, you’re free to complete coursework when and where you want as long as you meet your instructors’ deadlines. Class materials are always available online, so you can choose to work on assignments when you’re most focused and alert. You can also tailor the way you study to your own style of learning instead of being locked into a classroom setting or stuck in a lecture hall when you’d rather be sitting outside or curled up on the couch with a cup of coffee.
Online learning portals keep you connected with your classmates and instructors, preventing the isolation some people associate with these programs. Participation in discussions is often required, giving you a chance to get to know others in your classes as you share opinions. Some online programs are beginning to collaborate with universities and co-working spaces to provide opportunities for students to meet or collaborate in person and complete assignments using local campus facilities.
The Cost Advantages of an Online Degree
Not every online program is cheaper than its traditional counterpart, but you can typically save money by choosing this option to earn your degree. Costs and fees associated with housing, food, and on-campus activities don’t figure into tuition prices, and the cost per credit hour is often much lower.
Although you’ll probably still need to buy some books and supplies, the majority of class materials for online courses are available through the learning platform. Some schools charge technology fees to cover the cost of these platforms, but these fees represent a significantly smaller investment than what you’d spend on textbooks at a traditional school. Plus, since all of the work is handled electronically, you can take notes, write papers, and submit assignments without spending extra money on notebooks, pens, paper, or printer ink.
Without a commute to worry about, you save on the cost of fuel and vehicle maintenance. It’s also much easier to manage a regular work schedule while attending classes online, so you can have a steady income stream to rely on while you work on getting your degree. However, if your budget still doesn’t allow you to attend the program you want, financial aid may be available to cover some of the costs.
How to Find the Right Online Degree Program
Despite the growing popularity of online degree programs, many students may not even know such an option is possible for the degree they wish to pursue. Online learning has yet to surpass traditional university programs as the preferred way to get a degree, but as more students become aware of the variety of choices available, it could change the way people think about higher education.
Just like traditional colleges, though, not all online programs are created equal. Students interested in getting a degree online should look for accredited programs to maximize job opportunities upon graduation. All required courses should be offered through the online platform, and it’s best if credits are transferable between schools.
Reliable tech support is a must when you go to school online, as are regular office hours for each of your instructors. If you can’t get in touch with someone when you have a question, you could be unable to access course materials and wind up missing due dates for assignments. The functionality of the online portal itself is also important. Make sure it’s compatible with all the devices you want to use and easy to navigate so that you don’t spend half your time clicking around in search of what you need for your classes.
To find the best online degree program to fit your lifestyle and provide a gateway to your desired career, look into the options available locally and around the country. You can even search at international universities if you don’t find what you want closer to home. The flexibility of online degree programs means you can attend any school you wish, so make a list of your top choices and start looking.
It's important to search course offerings, costs, and reviews for each program you are considering. Be sure to look at graduation statistics and information about student loan defaults associated with the schools you wish to attend. Along with feedback and ratings from past students, these can give you an idea of the quality of a program and help you choose an online degree designed to help you succeed.