A Guide on How to Go Back to College: Part Three

Online Education: Program Assessment

By Beth Dumbauld

This is the third installment in a multi-part series about how to go back to college. The first two parts focused on creating a personal and career inventory as well as looking at fast growing occupations and assessing any current academic gaps. Now, in Part 3, we will take a look at online college options. We will also look at how the flexibility of these programs fit in the college choice mix. Next time, in Part 4, we will focus on open enrollment programs, associate degree programs, and 4-year degree programs including traditional on-campus institutions and community colleges.

Knowing yourself, your skills and interests, and knowing what career path you’d like to follow as you earn your degree is a big step towards college success. Knowing the future employment prospects of your career plans is an even bigger step -- this knowledge helps you develop goals in the job marketplace upon graduation that are realistic and attainable. Being able to articulate what, if any, academic gaps you may have is also an important step. Once you fill those gaps, you are then better able to move on with confidence and choose a degree program that’s the right fit for you.

Once you’ve decided you want to go to college, and have a pretty good idea of what you want to study, you may think it’s a done deal. That all you have to do now is find the closest college, sign up and go for it. True, geography is one way to choose a college. But it’s also a good way to get into financial difficulty and possibly become stuck in academic irrelevance. You want to go to a college that will help you move towards your career goals. Not all colleges can do that in a timely and cost-effective manner. In fact, a quick-trigger-enroll mindset may be one of the reasons that many students who start college don’t graduate. If you don’t enroll in the program that’s right for you, it just isn’t right.

In fact,

  • Just over 50% of students who start a 4-year bachelor’s degree program full-time finish in six years, and
  • Fewer than 3 out of 10 students who start at a community college full-time graduate with an associate’s degree in three years.1

And let’s not forget about student loan debt. The latest statistics have shown that roughly two-thirds of the class of 2010 borrowed for college, and those students, on average, owed $24,250 upon graduation.2 And what about those students who don’t graduate? There are those who thought they knew what to expect from college but instead, found out the hard way that their need for class flexibility and course accessibility was higher then they expected. After completing a few semesters, after investing a lot of time and money, they came to understand that their college courses weren’t as transferrable as they had expected. Now they have to change plans midstream. The end result: frustration and debt. Reality has shown that those who don’t plan their college path with a significant amount of forethought or are ill prepared for the rigors of college find themselves thousands of dollars in student loan debt with no degree to show for all their effort. Give yourself your best chance at success. You do have options when it comes to college. Become informed and choose wisely.

1 Complete College America, The Completion Shortfall

2 The Huffington Post, Average Student Loan Debt: $25,250, 11/3/11

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