How to Choose the Right Online University (page 2)
According to a recent survey published by the Sloan Consortium, more than 4.6 million students took at least one online course during the fall semester of 2008, marking a 17 percent increase over the previous year's report. As more students begin to recognize the benefits of an online post-secondary education, most accredited universities and colleges have responded, creating full-time degree offerings that can be accessed from anywhere across the country.
Although distance education programs offer students added flexibility, they require the same discipline and commitment as any traditional, on-campus degree. Before choosing an online university, prospective students should carefully consider five factors:
The first thing an applicant should do when researching a particular school is to verify the institution's accreditation, said officials with Walden University, an online degree provider. Regional accreditation certifies the competency and credibility of each program and effectively acts as barometer of quality and value. Potential employers may confirm that a degree came from an accredited university before tendering a job offer. The Department of Education's database has a complete list of each institution's credentials.
Researching the success of the department's faculty and alumni is also highly advisable. Having a professor with a minimum of a masters degree in their field of study will often result in a more comprehensive and quality education. Prospective students can determine the professional success of a program's alumni through sites like LinkedIn and Facebook.
Is the School’s Online Program New, or Well-Established?
Furthermore, most students report that the best online degree offerings are commonly delivered by institutions that have time-honored e-learning programs, according to U.S. News and World Report. "Even established traditional colleges and grad schools can stumble with their first ventures into online education," says the news source. "And their technical difficulties could affect your learning process."
Access to Technology
An often overlooked step that every applicant should take before committing to a school is to be certain that their computer is equipped with the hardware and software necessary to comply with the institution's online platform. Some programs will require students to have up-to-date multimedia and word processing software as well as high-speed internet access.
Finally, future students should gain an understanding of how each course is delivered. Commonly, online classes are either asynchronous, meaning that deadlines are set but the work can be completed at anytime, or synchronous, where students need to be logged on at specific times to complete work or participate in online discussions.
Applicants who have unbalanced schedules or who cannot commit to prearranged online meetings should always search for programs that offer self-paced classes where assignments can be completed at any time.
Prospective students should remember that online learning requires a significant amount of self-discipline and dedication. Setting aside eight to 10 hours per week for each course is always recommended. "Without a serious time investment, students won't be successful," the news source concludes.
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