A Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing an Online Degree

A Step-by-Step Guide to Choosing an Online Degree

Online Programs

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?

Truthfully, there is no definitive list of the best online colleges, and you’re likely to find different opinions from different sources. However, a reputable online college is always accredited, and offers flexible scheduling as well as a variety of degree options. The colleges listed in the table below meet these criteria and are our "top 5" most popular online education options for students according to our user data:

SchoolDescription
Purdue University
Purdue University

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
Purdue University offers online degree programs in the fields of Arts, Sciences, Business, Criminal Justice, Education, Health Sciences, Information Systems, Technology, Legal Studies, Nursing, and Law. Degree programs are designed with the working professional in mind, and afford you the flexibility to work while earning your degree.
Colorado Technical University
Colorado Technical University

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
Colorado Technical University offers online technology and engineering degree programs in Business, Accounting, Criminal Justice, Paralegal Studies, Electronics Technology, Radiologic Technology, Nursing, Digital Media, Business, Finance, and Engineering and Computer Science. The university is known for offering complex technical material in an easy to understand format.
American Intercontinental University
American Intercontinental University

Accreditation
  • HLC
  • NCA
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.
Liberty University
Liberty University

Accreditation
  • SACSCOC
At Liberty University, students can chose from approximately 70 majors and specializations including aeronautics, philosophy, religion, English, worship and music ministry, business, and criminal justice. Online degrees can be found from the associates to doctoral level. Students may also choose to attend courses on campus.
St Leo University
St Leo University

Accreditation
  • SACS
St Leo University specializes in undergraduate programs for students with credits transferrable to over 100 four-year schools in the country. The schools offers both bachelor and associate degrees, giving you more control over the type of degree you want to pursue. St Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Click here to search for other popular online colleges

Final Steps

Online Learner

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.

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