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Pack Your Backpack, You’re Going Back to School

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Still not sure that online learning is right for you? Besides careful consideration and weighing your options, there are a few key ways to know that getting a degree through your computer is the best option for you and your future.

Keep these pointers in mind when surfing the web for schools:

  1. Is the school regionally or nationally accredited, or both?
    Accreditation is an important factor in deciding on investing in higher education.  While there are many different types of accrediting agencies, the important thing to know is that the accrediting agency is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (www.chea.org) — which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
  2. What is the cost per credit/per course?
    This will vary with undergraduate and graduate degrees. Take the time to tally up the final amount. Just because it may look like it’s cheaper, doesn’t mean it is. Per credit and per course are two very different numbers, and can make a significant jump when totalling your costs for school.
  3. What is the TOTAL cost of the program; figuring no transfer credit?
    Schools have transfer credit fees, make sure to find out what those are when applying; if you have prior credits you can put toward your degree. Just like with cost per credit, figuring out up front what you’ll be paying over the next few years will save you a lot of headaches in the long run. Take out our calculator and type up the costs.
  4. How many credits can I transfer into my program?
    Find out the allowable amount for credits transferred. Typically you can transfer a higher amount of credits towards an undergraduate degree than you can for a graduate. This can save you money and time in the long run.
  5. How do faculty and students interact in the classroom. Is there group work?
    Typically students interact through discussion boards and class specific chats inside the classroom. Interaction with faculty varies by professor, class type and school. In most online settings, like at American Public University, there are no teaching assistants or graduate students to lead instruction. Instead, students interact directly with their professors.
  6. What is the typical/maximim class size?
    This is also dependent on the school size, faculty body, and so on. Typically there isn’t an overcrowding issue with online universities, and most classes for undergrads don’t exceed 25 students. As for graduate students, on average the class size will not exceed 20 students.
  7. Are there required login times?
    One of the many benefits of being online…flexibility. Because you aren’t expected to meet up with your professor and classmates a few times a week like you would at a typical university, you do have the option of logging into the class when you’re available during the week. Log in times may vary by professor, but once a week is the norm. Just because you don’t have to meet face to face doesn’t mean you can skip deadlines. Being an online student will require that you meet the deadlines on assignments from professors, and you’re responsible for getting it in on time.
  8. Do I ever have to come to the campus?
    Simply answered, NO. Some online schools will host a graduation ceremony where you can opt to attend to receive your diploma, but there is no class or admissions building you’ll need to visit in order to complete your degree.
  9. How often do classes start?
    Make sure to check the availability of the school before enrolling. APU offers monthly courses, so once you end one class, you can start a new one within a couple weeks. This is a nice feature considering traditional institutions are based around a more “seasonal” calendar.
  10. What kind of support is available to students? What resources will I have?
    Like any school there will be a library, but this type will be online. Ask your admissions rep what “tools” are at your disposal during your interview process. Ask to see if there are extensive research databases, inter-library loan systems, online tutoring, offices hours with professors, and more.

Lastly, you can never be too picky. This is after all your future, and your money. Take the time to investigate your options so that you’re left with a well-earned online learning experience.

– J. Mason

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