The stigma of online schooling is steadily fading. Advances in technology have made it possible for schools to offer effective programs that can prepare students as well as traditional in-person classes. Getting a graduate degree can open many doors professionally, and in some cases, may be a prerequisite for entering a specific field. As many graduate students are already in the workforce and juggling other responsibilities such as children, an online program offers the convenience and flexibility they so need to make getting their degree a possibility.
Accreditation means a school has met certain criteria and academic standards; when looking into online schools, it is important to verify any listed accreditations, and more importantly, only consider ones that are actually recognized by the Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. Any others will not mean much in the eyes of employers. Some even list fake accreditations that do not even exist. The Department of Education website offers a tool to check on accreditation of a school. You should also see if the field of study you are considering has any organizations that accredit specific degree programs in that discipline.
Some online schools have residency requirements where students are required to attend classes in-person; this can range from one or two days at a time to several weeks throughout the year. When deciding on programs, check if this applies and ensure your schedule permits such meetings.
In the event that you need or want to change schools, it is important to find out if any credit earned at the institution is eligible for transfer. While there are no guarantees with credit transfers, regardless of whether the school is online or brick-and-mortar, if the answer is an unequivocal ‘’no,’’ that should raise some red flags. This suggests a low-quality education that is not up to the typical academic standards expected in an institution of higher learning.
Certain numbers can be very telling in the quality of an online degree program. High graduation rates suggest a program that provides strong support for its students, while an institution with a low completion rate suggests the exact opposite. If employment rates of graduates seems low, this may suggest a few different problems, such as weak—or non-existent—career services program, or that the school is a diploma mill with a weak curriculum that employers do not take seriously.
In many ways, an online student will need even more assistance than a traditional student; online programs can vary greatly in the amount of support students receive during and after their time at the school. You want strong academic counseling to help you choose your classes and strong career service support to assist you with employment after you complete your degree. If you are having trouble finding information about student services on the website, or getting answers from people at the school, they are likely hiding something.
Financial aid counseling is also important, and you should be wary of counselors who seem to be really pushing you to take out private loans.