Online education is rapidly becoming the norm. As of 2023, 49% of students state that they have completed some type of online degree, certification, or training. The industry, in general, has grown a staggering 900% since it was created in 2000, putting it among the fastest-growing segments globally. And it is effective! 70% of students believe that online learning is better than on-campus education.
However, given that almost every other platform and educational institution these days is offering some online degree or short course, how do you verify credibility, quality of learning, and the actual market worth of the education you are acquiring? Well, you need to put in the time and effort to conduct extensive research before choosing an online course. Here are some of the things to consider:
Verify the accreditation status of the school
The first step in choosing an online degree should always be to determine if it is legit. There are a lot of shady platforms out there that promise you the moon and the stars but deliver nothing but wet dirt. Don’t fall for these traps even if they seem too good. With the internet, you can access public records that help you ascertain the credibility of any institution.
The US Department of Education has a website where you can check for the colleges and universities they recognize. When vetting online undergraduate programs or any other degree for that matter, ensure the school offering it is on the list provided on the portal mentioned earlier. That way, you can ensure they are registered with the relevant authorities.
Decide your major
Be mindful that not all majors are offered by every university. You can be looking for a specific field to pursue, but that won’t be offered by the institution you are interested in attending. Moreover, even if the university offers your desired course, it is not necessary that the same are available online as well. So, you have to be flexible with your choice of courses when picking an online degree.
Check that the classes are completely online
Ever since the COVID-19 pandemic, much like a lot of other businesses, educational institutions have taken most of their operations online. The health situation has improved considerably since then, but the digital learning model has been retained. Only the extent to which it has been retained varies from school to school.
This is why it is important to ascertain if the classes are completely online or on a hybrid model when choosing an online degree. In the latter, some classes are taken online, while for others, you need to attend in person. This can be an inconvenience and defeat the purpose for which you wanted an online degree in the first place.
Go through the requirements and fees
Many universities, even if they offer online courses, have several prerequisites and strict admission guidelines. Check these and verify that you have everything needed to enroll for the degree. You wouldn’t want to sign up thinking you’ll get in while putting all other plans on hold, only to learn that your admission has been denied.
In case you have previous credits pending, you can also ask if they can be transferred. This is also applicable usually if you are transferring from a different school. At the same time, inquiring about the fees is also essential because the pay structure and costs for an online degree can differ from that of a physical course taught by the same varsity.
Make sure to compare different institutions
The beauty of online education is that you can be in a different state or even a different country and still enroll in a university of your choice. So, you technically have the freedom to apply for Oxford or Cambridge universities while residing in the US. However, since there is such a vast extent of options available, you need to compare a lot of factors between schools.
First and foremost, you will need to shortlist the universities that are offering your desired course online. Once you have a list, you need to get down to comparing the elements that matter to you. These include the quality of education, the fee structure, and any scholarships or financial aid plans each university has, in case costs are a concern.
Research overhead costs
Much like a physical degree, online courses also come with certain overheads that you will need to take into account. One method to do this is to get in touch with the university and ask them about the things you’ll need to buy on your own and the items that are covered in the tuition fees. Most of the time, universities don’t cover a lot of additional costs.
These expenses can include the purchase of books, lab fees, delivery charges for notes and other material, counseling services, examination proctoring, and other course elements. You will need to factor in these costs separately to come up with a total number and then evaluate if you have the resources to cover that fee or not.
Inquire about the faculty
It is important to know that you are learning from the best. Most of the time, the professors taking on-campus classes also deliver online lectures. Still, there are instances where this is not the case. It is important that you comprehensively research the faculty, their respective credentials, and relevant experience in the field.
While performing this research, you can add other elements to the mix as well, like asking for reviews from previous students about the specific course you are planning to take. There are groups on social media where people can give you valuable feedback, or if you can find someone in your social circle, you will get a much better review.
Choosing an online degree comes with many benefits like flexibility and convenience, but deciding which course to choose can be tricky. There are a lot of parameters to assess because you are trusting the online process, so you need to be extra careful, especially about the fact that the university is imparting the same level and quality of education online as they are in the physical classes.