Saturday, April 16, 2011

Tips Useful In Picking Online Colleges

By Joe Wegener

In considering online degree or certificate programs, several things should be evaluated prior to enrollment. Taking stock of these issues as you initially explore online colleges will help prevent unnecessary problems later and put you on course to reach your goals more quickly.

Perhaps the first thing to consider when evaluating distance college opportunities is accreditation. In order for your degree or certificate to be recognized by employers or other colleges, it needs to be issued by an accredited school. Most opportunities you will find will be offered by accredited schools. But make sure to verify this point to avoid disappointment later.

Every school is developed around certain core principles. As you evaluate schools, consider how a program developed around a business model may differ from a program developed around educational ideals. Depending upon your needs and the type of program you intend to pursue, one type of program may be more suitable for you than the other.

The availability of support services also warrants consideration. Some online colleges offer students various support services such as tutoring or career planning assistance. Some also offer interest-based clubs in which students can participate. Think about the value you may derive from these opportunities. In particular, access to tutoring services may be beneficial if you have been away from the school environment from a long time.

The online school environment has some characteristics distinct from on-site schools that require an honest evaluation of your ability to maintain the level of organization and drive required to succeed online. Students who attend in-person classes reap the benefit of frequent reminders from professors and fellow students regarding assignment due dates and requirements. Distance students are on their own in this regard and must rely on their own abilities to stay focused and moving forward.

Additional considerations are the platform and format used by a school. Classes may be delivered either synchronously or asynchronously. Each format has strengths as well as weaknesses. You own needs will guide your decision regarding which is a better fit for you. Some schools provide prospective students the opportunity to take a trial run through a functional simulated classroom environment prior to enrollment. This is a great opportunity to learn how to navigate a new environment before being faced with the pressures of coursework.

Check out the library facilities offered by online schools. It sounds strange, but college course require access to databases containing collections of peer reviewed journal articles and similar materials and many students do not have regular access to this type of material. Many students either live in areas without access or travel frequently for work. To meet student needs, quality schools provide students with access to their libraries via the internet.

Finally, check to see what your chosen school's technical requirements are and what tech support is available to students. Students of internet-based programs are fully dependent upon technology in order to retrieve, complete, and submit assignments. The school you decide to attend should have a competent tech support division staffed by IT professionals who understand the challenges of the online school environment.

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