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The Right Questions to Ask When Choosing an Online Degree

By Hally Z.

If you are looking to earn an online degree, there are a plethora of online programs in all types of schools and specialties. However, you should be careful when choosing a specific online degree program, since in many cases the school may not really be as advertised. Here are the right questions to ask when choosing an online degree:

What types of accreditation do you hold and from which agency?

Online schools, much like "brick-and-mortar" schools, need to be accredited in order for their degrees to be recognized by other schools and businesses. Quite often, "diploma mill" online schools will verify that they are accredited and even make up the name of a fake accrediting agency. However, truly accredited schools (in the United States) will hold accreditation from one of the following six regional accreditation agencies:

All of these regional agencies are recognized by the United States Department of Education (USDE) and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).

If I have completed credits/courses from a different school, how many will you accept?

Does the institution grant credits from CLEP (College Level Examination Program) or DANTES (Defense Activity for Non-Traditional Education Support) examinations?

If the online school accepts credit/course transfers or equivalency test credits, you will significantly shorten the time required to earn your degree, as well as the costs associated with attaining that degree. Not all online schools accept outside credits/courses or equivalency tests, so be sure to ask.

What kind of financial assistance do you offer? How do you determine if an applicant has financial need?

Many online schools offer scholarships, fellowships, grants, stipends or loans to qualifying student applicants. However, there are usually specific criteria that must be met before the student can obtain financial assistance.

How much is your tuition? What is included in the tuition (books, software lab fees, etc.)? Do you offer payment plans?

Online schools will charge different tuitions for their courses, as well as for semester/credit/lab hours. Some schools may include books with the tuition costs, while others will charge for course items separately. Many schools also charge for the use of course software, servers, and lab time. Finally, if you find yourself unable to pay the full tuition amount at the start of the school semester or year, it is good to know if the school has any payment plans in place.

Do you offer any educational assistance, such as tutoring? Are the instructors available for after-hour classroom support? Does the school offer access to a computer lab or library?

Many online schools offer minimal educational support to their students, leading to a high student failure and dropout rate. Make sure your candidate online school will be there for you when you require additional help. Likewise, make sure that the school has adequate learning facilities, such as physical computer labs and a library, if that's important to you.

What are the teaching credentials of your faculty and staff? How long have your faculty and instructors been teaching online? What is the student to teacher ratio?

An online school needs to employ competent professors and instructors who are qualified to teach in their fields of study. Likewise, these individuals should already have some experience teaching online. Finally, a low student-to-teacher ratio allows for ample attention to each individual student.

What is the job placement rate of your graduates? Do you offer job placement advice and other services?

Online schools are selling you a product (education) which you anticipate will lead to a better or a new job in your field of study. Good online schools should offer help with job placement, as well as employment statistics about their recent graduates.

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