Whether you are a student who is getting closer to graduating high school, or a full-time working adult looking for new opportunities to advance your career or completely change it, online classes can be an ideal way to get a degree at a pace that fits your schedule and works well for you.

Over the past few years, many of the best colleges in the country have begun to offer online degree programs that are designed to fit the changing needs of modern students. And in the last eighteen months, we have seen why online learning is so essential today.

If a global crisis occurs, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the ability to quickly shift all learning to the internet means that students at all levels are able to continue receiving a consistent education. 

While online degree programs are growing in popularity, figuring out the right one for you can be tricky – especially with so much choice now available.

Choosing the right college and program is going to be the first step that you take in the journey towards achieving your long-term career goals, and it’s crucial to make sure that you put enough research in and make a thoughtful choice of college and program that is going to be the best fit for you and meet your needs well.

When choosing an online college and degree program, there are several different and important factors to consider. The professional reputation of the school, the curriculum, student support services available, and the school’s experience with delivering online programs are just some of the most important things for prospective online students to consider. 

Here are some of the main things to ask before you settle on an online degree program. 

Does the Program Match Your Long-Term Goals?

When looking at an online college like SBU Online, one of the first things that you will need to consider is whether the program matches up to what you want to achieve from your long-term career goals.

Some career options such as those in nursing, social work, psychology, and other healthcare fields will require you to obtain a professional license before you can practice in the field, and the degree program that you choose will need to meet certain requirements before you can obtain the license.

If you want to work in a field where a professional license will be required, make sure that the degree program you are considering meets all the requirements before you enroll, otherwise, it could be a lot of hard work in the future for you to finally get into the career that you want. 

Does the School Offer Degrees at the Level You Want?

Most online colleges will offer bachelor’s degrees in a variety of subjects. But if you already have a bachelor’s degree and are interested in getting an advanced degree online to improve your career, or are considering a career where you will need an advanced degree in the future, then it’s worth checking the higher levels of education that are offered.

While you may always be able to move to a different school to get your master’s degree if this is something that you have planned for your future, studying for your bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the same college can often be a more seamless experience. Some colleges even offer a tuition discount for students who stay with them throughout the different educational levels. 

Is the College Accredited?

College accreditation is one of the most important factors to think about when you are choosing where to study for your online degree program. Before you make a decision, it’s important to make sure that the college is accredited by a recognized agency.

If it is not, this can lead to issues for you in the future when it comes to getting further qualifications or even finding work, depending on the industry that you want to get into.

A school that is accredited will have gone through a very rigorous and strict evaluation process to ensure that the programs and the curriculum meet high standards of quality.

There are several professional industries that require graduates to obtain their degree qualification from an accredited school, and the majority of licensing agencies will not consider issuing a professional license to a graduate that attended an unaccredited college. 

What is the Professional Reputation of the College?

While this question might seem broad, it’s always worth spending time to look into the professional reputation of a given school before you decide whether or not to enroll there for your online degree.

It’s important to consider whether or not the school is going to give you the tools that you will need to succeed in your chosen career after you graduate.

A college with a strong professional reputation will have a long history of producing graduates that go on to become high-value employees, and when they meet strict quality standards consistently in terms of the degree programs that they offer.

There are several things that you can do to look further into the professional reputation of a college. Ask around to see if others would recommend the college, and speak with admissions tutors at your current school to find out what the general reputation of the school is like in the education industry. 

What Job Placement Rate Does the Degree Program Offer?

When scoping out a potential school to attend for an online degree program, it’s important to ask the potential school about the job placement rates for graduates on the degree program that you are interested in.

Understanding these numbers can help you get a better idea of the support and quality of the support and resources that are offered by the college and their online programs.

In addition to learning about the job placement rate, it is worth finding out more about any additional support that is offered by the college when it comes to career counseling and assistance with job placements, including helping students find internships or work experience while they are studying. 

What Additional Services and Support Are Offered?

A good educational environment offers more than a good quality curriculum and online class availability. Many of the best online colleges and universities will offer additional student services and support to online students along with their campus-based student population.

It’s worth looking into any extra services that are offered by an online college including technical, educational, and career support that is in place to help you reach your goals and reach your highest potential when studying for your online degree program.

Online students at certain schools may be able to access services such as virtual mentorship programs, online one-to-one tutoring, and a range of extensive online resources to help them get the most from their education. 

What Learning Platforms Do They Offer?

There are several different ways that an online degree program can be offered to students. Before deciding on the right online degree program for you, it’s important to make sure that you have a solid understanding of the expectations and requirements that the school has put in place for online students.

Some schools offer classes that are completely flexible and self-paced, allowing you to decide when to study based on what works best for you. On the other hand, other degree programs will require your attendance at certain times for live virtual lectures and other online events.

You may also find that some online degree programs will allow you to distance learn 100% of the time, while others expect you to be present on-campus for some lectures and classes, which will probably influence the college that you choose. Degrees in healthcare or science-based subjects will often include some mandatory in-person learning such as clinical placements for student nurses. 

Can the Program Be Accelerated?

One of the biggest benefits of online education is the flexibility that it provides to simply log into your online classes at any time and anywhere that you like. For some students, this means that they can easily speed up the pace that they take their degree and get it finished faster so that they can graduate sooner.

On the other hand, some students might find that it is better to take the degree at a slower pace to make it easier for them to fit in other commitments like work and family.

Many schools offer online degree programs that are flexible enough for students to decide how quickly or how slowly they want to take the program. If you fall into either of these categories, it’s worth looking into programs that offer this additional degree of flexibility so that you can graduate in a way that suits you. 

Are Transfer Credits Accepted by the College?

Whether you have been to college before or simply want to graduate faster based on your prior work or life experience, it might be worth looking into whether the school that you are considering accepts transfer credits.

If you have completed some college but did not graduate, it’s important to check out the credits policy to see if you will be able to study less and use the education you have already gained towards graduating from a new program.

Some students will use exams like the CLEP to allow students to test out of classes, while others will allow some prior college credits to be transferred to your new degree program.

There will usually be some requirements – for example, the credits may need to be in a certain subject or from an accredited school. 

What Credentials Do Faculty Have?

While a good quality curriculum and a high standard of education are essential for a successful education, it’s also highly dependent on instructors and tutors who have the right qualifications and credentials.

Even with online education, you can expect to be in regular contact with professors and tutors throughout the degree program, so it is important that you are being taught by people whose credentials you are confident in and that you trust to provide you with the education that you need to meet your future career goals.

Most schools have a faculty page on their website where you can go to learn more about the professors and tutors that work at the college and the qualifications that they have.

Getting a better understanding of the education, awards, research, and anything else that is important to you when it comes to the people that will be teaching you throughout your online degree is an important step in researching the best online college and program for you. 

How Much is Tuition and Can You Get Financial Aid?

Finally, the rising cost of tuition has become an obstacle for many when it comes to getting a degree, even though online degree programs have made it easier to find the time to study for people who need to continue working or have other commitments that would make it difficult to attend classes on campus.

The good news is that there are now several forms of financial aid available that students can apply to for financing their education. While online degree programs do charge tuition fees, you may be glad to hear that studying online is often much cheaper, with some colleges even offering a discount to online students due to the lower overheads for online programs. 

Before deciding on the right online college for you, check the tuition costs and make sure that the financial aid that you are thinking of applying for is accepted.

FAFSA is the most common type of financial aid that will be accepted by most colleges, and the first step to getting it is filling out the form as soon as possible each year to get access to federal grants and loans that you can use to finance some or all of your degree program depending on your circumstances. It’s also a good idea to check with the school about any scholarships or grants that they might offer. 

With online degrees growing in popularity and availability, knowing what to ask and research is crucial to narrowing down the best one for you.