Online schooling has come a long way from the stigma of “diploma mills.”’ While there still may be some questionable institutions out there, the quality of online distance learning programs has improved dramatically. Advances in technology have led even some of the most prestigious traditional schools to offer online degree programs. But like traditional schools, not all online programs are created equal and it is important to do your homework to find the right program for your educational and professional goals.
Get Ultra-Clear on Your Career Goals
If you are currently scouting out graduate programs, you may think that you have your career path all figured out; for some of you, that may be the case. But, according to interviews of enrollment officers at various graduate programs, one of the biggest problems they see with students is lack of careful thought about career goals and choosing the wrong graduate program. Either they have discovered that they actually do not want or are not suited for the jobs that the degree is preparing them for, or they are not taking the right type of degree for the jobs they ultimately want. Before you begin applying to programs, it is important to really think hard about what you want immediately after finishing the program and further down the line.
There are various institutions that accredit higher education programs—this ‘’seal of approval’’ ensures that the school and degree programs it provides meets a minimum standard of quality set forth by said institutions. It is doubly important to check the accreditations of online programs to make sure they have the ones that matter. Accreditation by institutions recognized on state and federal levels are the most valuable. One of the most important to look for is accreditation by a regional agency. They include the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU), Southwest Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), Middle States Association (MSA), Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC), New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) and the North Central Association of Schools and Colleges (NCASC). A good accreditation for online schools specifically is the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC.)
Furthermore, you want to look for accreditations from institutions that specifically evaluate particular types of programs. If you were pursuing a degree in the information technology field, such as online masters degree in information security, you want to look for programs that have ABET accreditation.
Evaluate the Program’s Area of Focus
While the core offerings of a particular degree program are similar across the various schools offering said program, individual aspects of the program can vary greatly. When choosing an online graduate program, it is important to carefully evaluate the offerings of the individual degree programs to determine the areas of focus. This may vary significantly, and depending on your interests, chosen career path and other individual factors, one program may be much more suitable for you than another. Graduate degrees are costly in terms of time and money and you want to ensure you are pursing the course of study most appropriate for your professional aspirations.
About the Author: Kelli Cooper is a freelance writer who enjoys blogging about online degrees and education in general.