How to Choose the Right Online College

Interested in an online education?  You’re not alone.  Millions of students have signed up for online degree programs, and even traditional colleges are starting to offer online classes and degrees.  Virtual learning offers flexibility that non-traditional students need and can’t often find at traditional schools.  If you’re interested in earning an online degree, here are a few things to look for.

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Legitimate college or diploma mill?
Watch for the signs.

Most online colleges are legitimate, with rigorous course loads and accreditation from the same institutions that recognize traditional schools.  But there are a few fraudulent schools that give online education a bad name.

When choosing an online college, it’s important to verify that the school you choose is indeed legitimate.   The first place to look is at the school’s accreditation.  Your school should be accredited through a legitimate regional or national agency.  There are many fraudulent accreditors out there who work with diploma mills.  Check out the CHEA Database of Accreditors [] to find your school’s accreditor and determine whether it is legitimate. 

There are other ways to determine a school’s legitimacy as well.  Check out the price the school charges—is it comparable to a traditional school’s tuition, or is it much lower?  Some illegitimate online colleges will simply mail you a diploma for a few hundred dollars.

Compare the degree program you’re interested in to the program at a traditional school you trust.  Do they offer the same levels of classes?  What are their faculty’s credentials?

Some illegitimate schools advertise programs that allow you to earn a degree in months—not years.  Be very skeptical of these programs.  It typically takes years to earn a degree.  In general, if the school sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Do they offer transfer credits?

If you’re transferring from one school to another, you can save a lot of money if your new school accepts transfer credits from your old school.  Not all schools make it easy for transfer students to keep their credits, however.  If you’re transferring, it’s best to talk to a number of schools to determine where you can get the best deal.  Those credit hours can be expensive, and the more credits you can transfer, the more you can save on your tuition and student loans.

Do they offer life experience credits?

If you’re an adult learner with years of job experience under your belt, you may be able to cash that in for life experience credit.  If you’re eligible, this could shave thousands of dollars off your tuition bill and shorten the time you’ll need to spend earning an online degree.

Every school is different when it comes to life experience credit.  Some schools don’t offer it at all.  Of those that do, most will have stringent requirements to meet.  You may have to pass a standardized test, sit for interviews, assemble a portfolio, or demonstrate your knowledge in some other way.

Be wary of colleges that offer life experience credits too easily.  Some diploma mills ask for a resume, and usually offer credits no matter what’s listed there.  Legitimate schools do offer these credits, but never easily.

Do their classes satisfy requirements in your state?

Some professions have requirements that vary from state to state.  For instance, interior design professionals are required to take a standardized test in 24 states.  To be eligible to take the test, designers must have a minimum of six years of combined education and work experience.  Teachers’ qualifications may vary slightly from state to state, and many other professions have similar requirement variations.

Traditional colleges generally educate their students to meet requirements in the state where they’re located.  Online schools have students across the country, so it’s important that their education program helps you to meet the professional requirements in your state.  It’s not a bad idea to discuss this with an online college before signing up for classes.

If you want to earn an online degree, you have a lot of options.  There are many excellent schools that can prepare you for a rewarding career.  Take your time in choosing schools and don’t hesitate to ask questions before choosing the right one for you.

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