4 Factors to Consider when Choosing an Online Degree Program

Online degree programs have become increasingly popular in recent years, offering students the flexibility and convenience of pursuing their education from the comfort of their own homes.

By: Bailey Gerber & Jake Hreha

Online degree programs have become increasingly popular in recent years, offering students the flexibility and convenience of pursuing their education from the comfort of their own homes. However, with so many online degree programs available, it can be difficult to choose the right one. How do prospective students know what to look for? How can you find the best online degree programs? What matters most when you're deciding on a school or study path?

Online students have many options to choose from. Online colleges and online programs continue to grow in popularity with many universities offering extensive online learning opportunities. In the past many universities offered online graduate degrees but now many are offering online bachelor's degrees as well. It can be overwhelming to try to pick which program is the best fit for you. Online college might appear to be equal across the board but it's important to take a deeper dive into what each online program offers.

When it’s time to choose an online degree program, take these four primary factors into consideration:

1. Accreditation

One of the most important details to consider when choosing an online program is whether a program is accredited. Accreditation is a process by which educational institutions and programs are evaluated and recognized by a governing body, and it indicates both the quality and credibility of a program. Accredited online degree programs ensure academic quality. It's important to take the time to see if the program you are interested in is accredited to get the most out of your online classes.

Finding an accredited online college is also a key factor in financial aid eligibility and credit transfer processes. Students can only receive federal financial aid and certain tuition assistance and scholarships if they attend a regionally or nationally accredited institution. Additionally, credits earned at non-accredited institutions, along with some credits earned at nationally accredited colleges, can't be transferred into regionally accredited institutions. However, almost all schools accept credit from regionally accredited institutions. (Fun fact: IWU is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.)

2. Reputation

Another important factor to consider is the reputation of the online degree program and the institution offering it. Look for programs that have a good reputation among students and employers, and research the institution's history and track record. Not all online degrees are created equally. Some specific items to look for include:

  • Does the school support graduates in their job search? (Or provide other student support services)
  • Does the school offer internships/practical learning experiences? (Even for students pursing a degree online.)
  • What are alumni doing now? (You can check LinkedIn to see what kind of careers alumni have pursued.)
  • Does the school have good reviews from both their online bachelor's degree programs and online master's degree programs? Is one of them prioritized by the university?
  • How does the school rank nationally?

Finding a university with a good reputation in your chosen field will give you credibility when it's time to look for jobs. Don't be afraid to reach out to alumni on LinkedIn or talk to professors listed on an institution's website to get a better idea of how a certain program will benefit your career. The best online colleges will produce the best career ready graduates.

3. Curriculum and Course Offerings

When choosing an online degree program, it is important to evaluate the curriculum and course offerings. You can see what classes you'll take and compare them to classes offered in other programs, which allows you to find a program with courses that interest you. Examining course offerings also helps you determine whether the subject matter in the program is relevant and up-to-date. You don't want to enroll in a program that hasn't evolved with modern demands and norms.

Online courses also offer a variety of teaching styles. Online learners may prefer different course structures depending on their style of learning and degree. Some online students will prefer written material that they can study and examine at their own pace while other students may prefer lectures or prerecorded sessions that offer a more visual and classroom like experience. Online education offers a variety of course structures dependent on the online college and your needs.

Course offerings and curriculum can provide valuable insight into the strengths and focus of the program, as well as the types of courses and experiential learning opportunities that are available. If you are looking to gain specialized skills or knowledge, you may want to look for a program that offers courses or experiential learning opportunities in those areas. The more you evaluate the details of a certain program, the easier it will be to make an informed decision about what's right for you.

4. Cost and Financial Aid

Finally, cost is an important factor to consider when choosing an online degree program. Look for online schools that offer competitive tuition rates, and research the availability of financial aid and scholarships to help offset the cost of your education. The good news about online degrees is that they are often more affordable than traditional, on-campus programs. At IWU, we encourage students to look into the various types of financial aid we offer – because we know how important your financial security is.

Making an informed decision about an online degree program might feel overwhelming, but you’re not alone. If you need help finding one that meets your needs and goals, reach out to an IWU enrollment counselor today.

Bailey Gerber

Content Creator, IWU-National and Global

Bailey Gerber is a vocabulary geek and grammar enthusiast at IWU-National and Global, so she spends most of her time writing and reviewing webpages, video scripts, flyers, and – of course – blog articles. She loves all things involving words, and in her spare time you’ll find her buried in a book (probably with a cup of coffee in hand).

Jake Hreha

SEO Copywriter, IWU

Jake Hreha is a graduate of Ball State University, where he majored in advertising with a concentration in media presentation and design. He is passionate about design, and in his free time he enjoys cycling, traveling, and reading.

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