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Choosing an Online Program

Like with any other college decision, there’s a lot to consider when you’re choosing an online degree program. This can be an overwhelming process, since there are now so many online degree programs available. Thankfully, we’ve compiled a list of tips and considerations to help you make your decision as painless as possible.

Finding an Online Program to Meet Your Needs

Think about your desired career.

The first step to choosing the right program for you is to define what your true passions and interests are. Knowing what subject you want to study or what career you want to pursue will help you narrow down your list of program options. Ask yourself what subjects you most enjoyed in high school or recent higher education pursuits, what hobbies you enjoy, and how you can turn those into a career. Next, make sure you research any potential career carefully, to figure out the best path you can take to get there.

Do your research.

Once you’ve decided what you want to study, you’ll have a much easier time creating a shortlist of potential colleges and universities to pursue. For each college or university under consideration, check the degree requirements closely. Some institutions only offer certain courses online, while others may require you to make a trip to campus at the beginning and/or end of the programs. Find out which degree requirements can be met online from the institution you’re interested in, and which ones can’t.

When searching for a college or university, make sure you ask these questions:

“What student support services do you offer?

You'll want to make sure that there's someone at the university who can help you if you need it. You may need someone to answer questions about accessing resources, or someone to help keep you on track for graduation. Many full online programs even offer around the clock access to the programs and tools you need.

“What kind of technical support is available to online students?”

Technology is great, but not always reliable. Make sure that any program you’re considering offers technical assistance in case you have trouble accessing a course or posting your homework.

“Does the program offer financial aid?”

One of the perks of online degree programs is that they are often less expensive than traditional degrees, but you still may need financial help. Check to see if there’s any financial aid available to you through the program.

The Difference in Full Online Programs and Partial Online Programs

When choosing an online program, you’ll also have to decide whether you prefer a fully online program or a partial, also known as “blended” program. You will find there are many schools that offer on-campus courses combined with an online program. For example, the Thunderbird School of Global Management offers an Online Master of Global Management program which allows students to begin or end their degree on campus.

While full online programs are offered entirely online, blended programs are delivered partly online and partly on campus. These programs offer a number of advantages. Research suggests that blended programs combine the strengths of traditional education and online education. A 2010 study published by the Department of Education found that blended learning approaches are often more effective than traditional classes, and that they offer elements that aren’t found in 100% online or face-to-face courses.

Additionally, blended programs offer students the chance to interact face-to-face and network with each other. Fully online students may have to sacrifice some of the social experience of education, but blended programs allow students to meet and connect with each other both online and off, leading to stronger professional networks.

Still, blended programs aren’t for everyone- especially those trying to obtain a degree from a different country. While these programs tend to be more popular with traditional college students, most nontraditional students tend to opt for fully online courses, which allow them more flexibility. This is particularly important for students who are balancing their education with their work or family life. As a student in a blended course, you’ll need to know when you are expected to be on campus. This requires planning ahead and being prepared. You’ll also need to know what consequences to expect in the case of a missed face-to-face class, and whether alternatives are offered.

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Degree-Specific Considerations

One of the most important considerations that will help you choose a program is the type of degree you wish to pursue. First, you’ll want to consider whether you are going to get a bachelor’s degree or a master’s degree. So, what’s the difference? If you have not yet received a degree, you should be considering a bachelor’s degree program (undergraduate). This is the degree designated for students who have not yet graduated from a higher education institution. If you have already received a degree, you should be considering a master’s degree program (graduate). This is the degree designated for students who have already graduated from a higher education institution.

Choose your area of study based on your interests. For example, if you’re an undergraduate student interested in television production, you should consider a bachelor’s degree in journalism or communications media. On the other hand, if you’re an experienced business professional interested in international business, you should consider a master’s in global management like that offered at the Thunderbird School of Global Management.

Another important consideration is how respected the program is in your prospective career field. One of the best ways to determine this is to talk to professionals who are already working in your desired field; including what they think of the schools you’re considering. They’ll be able to give you advice and tell you which program they think will be most helpful for your goals.

Quality Considerations

One of the most important factors that will go into choosing your program is the quality of the program itself. Although there are many great online degree programs out there, there are also scams that you need to watch out for. There are a few ways to determine the quality of the programs you are considering.

Some of the most respected US regional agencies include:
  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Southern Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Look into how long the institution has existed. Many brick and mortar colleges and universities that have been around for decades now offer online degree programs. If you choose to get your degree through one of these programs, you are already assured of the quality of the program.

For schools that haven’t been around quite as long, look into their relationships and partnerships within the educational community, other institutions, employers, and alumni. You can tell a lot about a programs by the partnerships it maintains, as well as its student success and satisfaction rates.

Finally, find out whether the program is accredited. An accredited school has been approved by an independent system of accountability and quality control. This means that the school is recognized as a legitimate institution. This is important, as employers will look at a degree from an accredited school with more respect. When looking into a school, find out if they are accredited, what kind of accreditation they have, and which agency (or agencies) they are accredited by.

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