Earning a College Degree in an Online World – Part II

So you’ve decided that the online degree route is the way to go. You’ve done your research – including reading my last blog post –  and want to start your journey to higher education. What comes next?

The first thing you want to do is decide which school has the online program that best fits in your schedule. Check out the following website http://www.guidetoonlineschools.com/online-reviews to get some background information on the various schools that have online programs. This site offers reviews from students, information on graduate and retention rates of students and costs associated with a typical academic year. Don’t commit yourself to one school; contact as many as you’d like to get an idea of what a class is like; length, work involved, etc., so you will know if you can devote the time needed to complete your degree. You can tell a lot about the school when speaking with the enrollment advisor so use this initial conversation in making your decision; i.e., their tone of voice, how they answer your questions, knowledge, etc. In addition, many of the advisors are taking classes themselves so they can provide some valuable information. Take advantage of it! Some of the questions you may want to ask during your initial phone call – in no particular order – are:

1. What is the length of each class? The answer to this question really depends on the college and the degree you are pursuing. If you are earning a Bachelor’s degree, most universities offer classes that are five weeks in length; six weeks if earning a Master’s Degree. However, some colleges, like Kaplan University utilize a 10-week class for their Bachelor’s Degree and six weeks for a Master’s.

2. What are the attendance and participation requirements? Every online degree program has this requirement and this is perhaps one of the most important questions you will ask. As I said in my previous post, you will be given discussion questions each week (more detail on that later), and you will be required to respond to a specific number of your classmates each week. Again, the number of responses depends on the university and program. For example, University of Phoenix requires four responses to classmates on four different days; whereas others such as Ashford and Kaplan require only two responses, whether they occur on the same day or not.

3. What is a typical class week like? Again, a very important question as it is a good indicator of the time you will need to set aside each week. Based on my experience, an academic week consists of two-three discussion questions, usually due mid-week and a research paper and/or quiz that are due on the last day of the week. And don’t forget that participation requirement! You will also be spending time reviewing your classmates’ postings and responding to them.

4. Can I test-drive the online classroom? Some colleges will allow you to logon as a guest to get a feel for the online classroom and how to navigate from place to place within the online environment. If this is an option, definitely take advantage of it because it will give you insight as to which sites are user friendly and which required an engineering degree to navigate! (Believe me, some do!)

5. Is there a trial period for the degree program? Since online education has become more popular, many colleges are now offering an introductory period, anywhere from a few weeks to a month, depending on the university. During this time, you will take your classes as scheduled, but if at any time during the trial period you feel this venue is not right for you, you can withdraw from the school without owing anything. When I started in the online degree world 10 years ago, they didn’t have this option, but for those new to the college world, especially older students, it is an invaluable resource.

6. How involved can I be in the scheduling of my classes? Unfortunately, there are some academic advisors out there that schedule classes for you at random without consulting you. Ask questions, find out how many credits of history, math, social sciences, etc., are needed and look at the course catalog to see what classes will fit the requirements of you degree. You will have core classes which are not negotiable, but other classes as part of your degree program can be chosen. For example, if your degree requires an extra social science and you are interested in psychology or philosophy, find out if the school has a class that can count towards that credit. You are working hard for your degree; you want to be a part of the road you are taking to get there!

7. What is the tuition and fee structure? Each school has their own method for calculating tuition depending on the degree program; however, make sure you ask about their technology fee. Every online school has one ranging from $75.00 to $150.00; charged every semester or by class, depending on the school. Make sure to ask about the financial aid process as well as information about any grants or scholarships. Even if it’s only $100, trust me, every little bit helps!

The online process is much less complicated than it seems and if you’re like me and get antsy and frustrated in a traditional classroom, then this venue is for you.

online-education-moocs

Coming up next….How Do I Manage My Time??

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