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How to Choose the Right Online College for You
How to Choose the Right Online College for You
March 15, 2023 / Ioana Andrei
How to Choose the Right Online College for You
March 15, 2023 / Ioana Andrei

Introduction

Studying at an online college offers you greater flexibility over your schedule and geographic location, but it can be tough to evaluate such programs when there isn’t a physical campus to visit. Moreover, if you’re undecided about what subject to study, starting the search can seem daunting.

However, with a list of important considerations, including desired certifications, available subject areas, and preferred college characteristics, this process becomes a lot easier. Keep reading to learn how to choose the right online college for you.

What to Think About When You’re Looking for an Online College

It’s vital you pick the online college that works best for you, as you’re not only investing money in it, but time and effort as well. Here is our step-by-step guide on what to consider when looking for an online college.

What certification are you looking for?

Searching for a bachelor's or a master's degree narrows down your list of online college options, allowing you to research a smaller set of courses. You’re also looking at around 4 years of study and potentially higher tuition costs than with other certifications.

Consider an associate degree for 2-3 years of study at a post-secondary level. While it’s not as comprehensive as a bachelor's, you may be able to transfer the credits toward an undergraduate course. Also, should the course not be the right path for you, you’re investing less time and money while testing it.

You’ve additionally got certificate programs, which don’t offer degrees but provide intensive, boot camp-style training on a specialized subject in 1 year or less. You acquire new skills quickly, explore a new career path, and could get an entry-level job upon completion. Credits from certificate programs can sometimes be used towards undergraduate or graduate degrees.

Double-check your preferred college is accredited, as this signals its academic content meets rigorous standards. Independent accrediting agencies are recognized by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) .

What do you want to study?

If you haven’t yet decided on a major or subject, check what courses online colleges offer under high-level subject areas such as arts and humanities, technology, and others. Do some soul-searching to determine which type of course would support your desired career path.

Some colleges focus on a niche set of courses—such as technology or social sciences—while others offer a wider spectrum. Also, depending on the certification, course names and content can be more or less specialized. For instance, in a business college department, you may find a Bachelor's in Business Management and Master’s in Global Supply Chain Management. Check the course syllabus carefully to ensure it suits your skills, interest, and career aspirations.

Once you’ve identified your top subjects and a shortlist of colleges, research how the colleges rank on your preferred major. An online college may be prestigious overall but not score highly on your preferred subject.

Unsure where to start? Here’s a bird’s eye view of popular subject areas.

Technology

Technology courses include wide-reaching subjects like computer science, which is a popular bachelor's and associate degree, as well as more niche specializations, often offered as master's or certificates, like robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) engineering.

Business

A degree in business gives you a solid foundation in the principles of management, marketing, accounting, finance, and other key areas. You'll learn how to analyze data, create business plans, and make strategic decisions. A bachelor's degree in business is a popular choice, but there are also online MBA (master’s) programs that can help you advance your career.

Psychology

With a degree in psychology, you can pursue a career in counseling, social work, research, or other related fields. You'll learn about topics such as personality, social psychology, abnormal psychology, and cognitive psychology. Many universities offer online bachelor's and master's degree programs in psychology.

Life and medical sciences

Interested in subjects like chemistry, biology, or genetics? Then a life and medical sciences degree could be for you. You’re less likely to find a fully online medical degree, but check out master's or certificate programs on specialized medical topics.

Law

Pursuing a degree in law prepares you for a career in legal services, like being a lawyer, judge, or paralegal. Non-degree programs can also give you a leg up in getting accepted for law school.

Mathematics and engineering

Mathematics and engineering courses range from theoretical subjects, like mathematics, statistics and physics, to applied ones, including data analysis, civil engineering, and others.

Arts and humanities

From history and English literature to music and drama, arts and humanities subjects are highly accessible to online learners as you can turn theory into practice from the comfort of your own home. You often find bachelor's, master's, and other certifications in this subject area.

Pros of studying online

Studying online eases some of the difficulties inherent to in-person learning, such as relocating to a new area, spending less time with loved ones, and attending sessions only at specific times. However, each course and learner is different, so apply the following online studying benefits to your circumstances.

Managing your own schedule

Online courses offer you the flexibility to choose how you manage your time. You learn from a combination of video lectures, on-demand recorded content, graded quizzes, and more, so you can schedule your study time around other priorities, whether they be family, part-time work, or hobbies.

Balancing your personal life

Whether you’re studying from home or your local cafe, you have more control over your personal life with an online course. Childcare, meeting friends, and relaxing with a streamed TV show are easier to manage when the course content is at the touch of a button.

Living wherever you want

Studying in-person usually involves living on campus for a few years, adding cost and homesickness to your experience—even more so when studying out of state. Studying online, however, expands your choice of accommodation, so you can live anywhere in the country, including your current abode.

What characteristics are you looking for in an online college?

Do you have specific requirements from an online college besides its majors and curriculum? If so, they will influence your top choice. Many online learners include these important characteristics in their decision-making.

Academic recognition

If the college, course, or type of certification is highly regarded nationally, it could boost your future employment or academic options. For instance, you may get an interview with a prestigious firm, receive a higher-than-average salary, or get accepted to further education, like a master's or PhD program, after graduating.

Community

Some colleges or courses attract communities with common characteristics. For example, Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), colleges with Christian values, programs designed for mature students, and other community-centric spaces can allow you to connect with like-minded individuals during your studies.

Class size

A smaller class size can facilitate deeper connections between students and greater access to tutors’ time. On the flipside, a larger class size enables greater diversity of thought and the opportunity to meet more people. There is no right answer, so consider which class size suits you best.

Faculty

Some students look for faculty members with certain characteristics, such as those having impressive industry experience or qualifications like a PhD. It’s also important to be able to ask tutors questions during online office hours or group Q&As, and have 1-to-1 communication with them by email, chat, and video call.

Careers services

Securing a great job after graduating can be made easier by effective careers services. Some colleges invite prospective employers to lead webinars and workshops, become mentors to students, and even teach guest lectures. Furthermore, college career advisors provide valuable guidance on writing resumes and preparing for interviews.

Cost and financial aid

Budgeting college education costs can feel overwhelming for many. Check if your top colleges offer gift aid, like scholarships and grants, and whether they accept tuition payments via Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Some colleges offer financial advisory free of charge to help you understand your payment options.

Online library

Getting free or discounted access from a college to your course’s reading list. Just as a campus library provides unlimited reading opportunities, an online library allows you to browse e-books, reports, and more.

Conclusion

Studying online comes with big advantages, like being able to manage your own schedule and stay closer to friends and family. While there’s a host of online college options out there, choosing the right one is easier if you know which key elements to consider.

First, think about the certification you’d like to get, with options including certificates, and associate's, bachelor's, and master's degrees. Then, look for colleges that offer your preferred subject or major, whether that’s in technology, business, psychology or other subject areas. Make sure the college is accredited by an accreditation agency.

Finally, include the college characteristics that matter most to you in your search. These can include academic recognition, class size, a great careers service, and financial aid options.

Ready to start your search? Use our online college comparison chart to find the online college that fits you best.

By Ioana Andrei
Ioana holds a BSc in Business Management from King's College London and has worked for 4+ years as a management consultant in the technology, media and telecoms industries. Ioana is also a successful entrepreneur, having launched several social enterprises. No stranger to IT and an enthusiastic hackathoner, Ioana is also an accomplished fintech, SaaS and B2B tech writer.
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