How to Choose an Accredited Online College in 10 Easy Steps

How to Choose an Accredited Online College in 10 Easy Steps

6 minute read

Considering earning your degree online? Before you put your career on the line, it's essential that you choose a high-quality online degree program that is committed to your educational success. If you choose a subpar program, you can find yourself floundering with little direction and on the fast track to high student debt. Fortunately, there are many excellent degree programs available 100% online that can help you affordably achieve your academic goals and find career success.

How to Choose an Online College: 10 Questions to Ask

We've compiled a list of the ten most important questions to ask to help you choose the online college that's right for you:

1. How long has the online college been around?

Students at an online college

Many online degree programs are offered by colleges and universities that have been around many decades, and in many cases, founded over a century ago. When you earn your degree online from a school with an established reputation, your degree has proven value. Evaluate schools with shorter institutional histories by taking a look at their relationships and partnerships within the educational community, institutions, employers, and alumni. You can tell a lot about a school by the partnerships it maintains and its student success and satisfaction rates.

2. Is the college or university accredited?

Think of accreditation as an insurance policy that protects the value of your education. The U.S. Department of Education says it best: “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.” It does you no good to invest a lot of money in a school that is not accredited by appropriate agencies. Example: If you received training in medical coding from an unaccredited school, that credential isn’t worth much when you apply for jobs. All of StraighterLine’s partner colleges are regionally accredited – the highest level of accreditation possible. Plus, all StraighterLine courses have received ACE CREDIT recommendations.

3. Does the online degree program accept transfer credits?

Transfer college credit

According to research, one of the best ways to reduce taking on student debt and increase your chances of graduating on-time is by enrolling exclusively in courses that offer a direct route to graduation. Online degree programs that make it easy to transfer existing college credits or low-cost online courses are most likely to offer a direct pathway to your degree. One way to lower the cost of your online degree is to take your general education courses online here at StraighterLine and then transfer them directly into schools in our network of accredited partner colleges. Our courses have also been accepted for credit by over 2,000 other colleges and universities as well.

4. Is the school in a good financial position?

Use caution when considering schools that are having financial challenges, are reluctant to share important financial data, or have seemed to just set up shop without prior academic success or experience. Look to see if they have strong ties or relationships with partners and respected academic institutions.

5. Are there any hidden costs?

Hidden college costs

Sometimes there can be hidden costs to an online degree program, from technology to lab fees. Reputable programs will make sure any "extra" costs are transparent, such as if there are any on campus requirements. Also, be sure to explore the financial consequences of taking any time off. An advantage of taking your general education course online, prior to enrolling in an online degree program, is that you can take as many courses as you want and work at your own place.

6. Can the degree program help you reach your career goals?

Too many students load up on excessive and unnecessary credits - and end up spending too much time and money to complete their degrees. Make sure the courses and degree make sense for your post graduation goals. Ask for, and review, a degree plan before you enroll. Verify student employment and placement rates - and understand the value of your degree to potential employers.

7. Are the online courses best in class?

Online college courses

Not all online courses are made equal. Courses with stale material can put you out of step in a changing workplace. Check out which textbooks are required. Are they reputable? Are they up-to-date?  Find out if you can take your lab courses online and at home. Also, many of the best online programs will team up with award winning courseware providers so you can benefit from the latest learning content and technologies and find greater success.

8. What type of academic, career, and technical support is available to online students?

A well-staffed support team can help you get the academic support you need, when you need it - and help keep you on track for an on time graduation. Check out your online tutoring options and your access to student advisors. Don't base your decision on a program's sale pitch without ensuring that online students have equal access to available career service support and opportunities. Also, as an online student, you can expect to encounter technical issues from time to time. Be sure the online degree program you are considering has multiple methods for you to walk through any technology-based issues, including chat, phone, or email.

9. What are the program's on-time graduation rates?

College graduation

Every extra year spent on your college degree is a year of added cost - and added debt.  4 years of college is significantly less expensive than five or six, and earning your bachelor's degree in 3 years will cost you significantly less than four years. Online education can provide opportunities to speed up your time to degree, graduate early, and save money on tuition.

10. What is the cost and average student debt?

There is an enormous variation in the cost of online degree programs. There are many excellent, high-quality, flexible and reputable online degree programs that can help you affordably earn your college degree. Caution - just because you can pay for your degree program with the help of loans does not make the degree program affordable! You have to be able to pay your student loan debt back without sacrificing your future. Therefore, the key to choosing an affordable degree program is focusing on lowering your tuition costs. For example, one year of tuition at a 4-year private college is $35,807, but online programs offering competency-based degrees only cost between $2,500 and $6,000 per year.

Choose an Accredited Online College that's Right for You

With online courses and online degree programs, you have an extraordinary opportunity to graduate with the degree you want, from the school you want for a fraction of the price. Know your options, ask the right questions - and be confident that you can find an online college that's right for you.

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