A Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing an Online Degree
At one time, online colleges were rarely available – and when they were, the programs couldn’t hold a candle to traditional schools. Today, you can get an online degree in anything from business to history to nursing, and virtual programs provide you with a quality education.
With so many programs available, how do you choose the right online college degree? Here are a few tips to help you pick the perfect major:
Step 1: Think About the Subjects You Liked in High School.
What interested you in high school definitely can give you a clue as to what will interest you in college. Make three lists of your high school classes – topics that bored you to tears, topics you absolutely loved, and topics that you were curious about, but didn’t like the teacher or didn’t get to explore. Anything you found boring can be crossed off right away, but the other two lists can narrow down your program choices.
It’s important to remember that choosing a major is a process. It takes time and careful consideration. But choosing a major is not the same as choosing a career. Many areas of study overlap and offer similar content so you don’t have to major in pre-law to be attorney. You can major in political science, English, and humanities, among others.
Step 2: Think About Your Hobbies.
Next, make a list of hobbies you enjoy – stuff you like to do even if you aren’t getting paid for it. You might see some patterns emerging here. For example, if you like to paint, you also probably liked art classes in high school and a major like art or art history might be right for you.
There are many different types of degree programs and areas of study to choose from. If you’re still not sure what you want to major in, consider meeting with an academic adviser to discuss your options. Some schools allow students to select a major after a year of study. This provides ample time to research your options before making a decision.
Step 3: Do Some Career Research.
Just because you love art doesn’t mean it will make a good career. Do a little career research to find out what kinds of careers are available relating to fields you enjoy. For example, if you enjoy writing but don’t like the thought of a difficult freelancing career after you graduate, maybe a better choice would be to major in communications. You’ll still have the writing aspect, but you’ll also be able to expand your job search into areas like marketing and advertising.
If you plan to work for a year before enrolling in a program, consider finding a position in a field you’re interested in. This way you gain experience before working towards your degree.
Step 4: Compare Program Lengths.
How long do you want to be in school? In many fields, you can get started with just an associate’s degree or even certificate, but you can also continue attending classes online to some day earn a doctorate in your field. For example, if you like biology, working in the medical field might be right for you. You can enter the industry quickly with a one-year education to become an LPN or you can get a PhD in nursing, which takes more time.
If you want to earn your bachelor’s degree online, you can expect it to take about three or four years to complete. Graduate-level programs often take about two or three years to complete, sometimes less, depending on the program. Doctoral programs vary in length. Some programs can take as long as ten years to complete while others take only four or five.
Step 5: Scrutinize The School Before You Commit.
Now that you’ve found a school with a program that you think will work best for you, there are a few things to look for in the school itself.
- Accreditation. Nothing is more important in your decision to attend a school than knowing it is regionally accredited. Accreditation means that the school is recognized as a legitimate institution and is not just a degree-mill. If you think you may consider transferring credits from an online university to a traditional one, this will not be possible with an unaccredited school. Additionally, employers will look at a degree from an accredited school with more respect.
- Technical Support. How interested is the school in you as a student? Are they able to help you when you’re having issues? Knowing that the school will always be there for you when you are having technical difficulties is an indicator of how much they care about your education. You don’t want to risk throwing all of your money away based on faulty Internet connections.
- Financial Aid. While online universities are generally less expensive than traditional colleges, you still may find that you need help financially. Don’t assume student loans and decades of debt is inevitable; see what the school can do to help you. Likewise, remember that high price does not necessarily guarantee high quality. Look at the courses you will likely be taking and consider how they will help you in your future career.
- Read student reviews. Do a search online for what students are saying about your particular degree program. What do they like or not like about it? Has a former student discussed their post-graduation employment opportunities? This is another way to find out more on the above three bullet points as well.
How are the best online colleges determined?
To help us find some of the best colleges and universities that cater to distance learners, we turned to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). The list below features a collection of the top accredited schools from all over the country that give students the option to pursue a variety of certificate, undergraduate, or graduate degree programs entirely online (source: NCES.ED.gov: CollegeNavigator, data 2018).
American Intercontinental UniversityAccreditation
|"American Intercontinental University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting, acquisition and contract management, business, criminal justice, economics, education, health services administration, information systems, marketing, and public administration. Accredited by the Higher Learning Commission, AIU graduates have the opportunity to apply their new knowledge in the workforce."|
|"Antioch University provides learner-centered education to empower students with the knowledge and skills to lead meaningful lives and to advance social, economic, and environmental justice. We aspire to be a leading university, offering learners and communities transformative education in a global context that fosters innovation and inspires social action."|
Colorado State University - Global CampusAccreditation
|"CSU-Global Campus is committed to advancing student success in a global society, investing in human capital, expanding the state economy, and enhancing the quality of life for citizens in the state of Colorado and beyond by providing access to dynamic degree programs characterized by academic excellence, innovative delivery technologies, and strong stakeholder engagement."|
Florida Institute of TechnologyAccreditation
|"Florida Tech’s mission is to provide high-quality education to a culturally diverse student body in order to prepare students for entering the global workforce, seeking higher-education opportunities, and serving within their communities. The university also seeks to expand knowledge through research and to serve the diverse economic, cultural, and societal needs of our constituencies."|
|"As a 100% online university serving a highly diverse student population, Grantham believes education should enhance your life – not get in the way of it. That’s why everything we do, every single day, is centered on our students – minimizing potential obstacles and maximizing quality learning. You do your part by working hard to earn your degree. And we do ours by providing you an exceptional Grantham experience that leads to an even more amazing career."|
Johnson & Wales UniversityAccreditation
|"Our university mission is to deliver an exceptional education that inspires professional success and lifelong personal and intellectual growth – the JWU College of Online Education gives us another way to deliver on that promise. Graduates will leave with professional competence, a foundation for lifelong learning, and respect for global and community citizenship."|
|"As a regionally accredited, private, online and graduate-focused university, NCU offers doctoral, master’s and bachelor’s degrees in business and technology management, education, and psychology, as well as doctoral and master’s degrees in marriage and family therapy. NCU utilizes a one-to-one learning model to create a more personalized, individual experience for students enhanced by their professors’ real-world experience."|
|"Believing that qualified individuals should have the privilege of formal academic training, South University welcomes those who seek educational challenges. To this end, the University provides a learning environment, both on campus and online, that helps students identify goals and the means to achieve them. Students learn by interacting with a community of faculty, staff, and administration dedicated to the university’s academic purpose."|
University of Wisconsin CollegesAccreditation
|"Designed for working adults with some college credit or on-the-job experience, UW Flexible Option breaks free from rigid semester schedules. Start any month, move at your own pace, and test whenever you’re ready. You can also use your current knowledge and prior experience to progress toward your degree, which may help save you time and money."|
|"Walden University provides a diverse community of career professionals with the opportunity to transform themselves as scholar-practitioners so that they can effect positive social change. Through programs that reflect current market trends and promote positive social change, Walden is committed to helping you achieve your goals, enabling you to make a difference in your career and community as a Walden graduate."|
Once you’ve decided on a school, it’s time to hit the ground running. Get organized by creating a calendar of assignments, quizzes, tests, and other important tasks. If you’re working full-time, make sure you’ve allotted enough time for your studies. Carve out a few hours each day to review course materials and complete assignments.
It’s also important to take advantage of the resources your school offers. Even online schools have clubs and organizations! Job fairs and other career-related events are also great ways to stay connected with other online students.
If you’re still having a hard time deciding on which school to attend, let us help. Our list of accredited programs will link you directly to a variety of programs. You can request additional information and learn more about what online education can do for you.