As the job market continues to recover, more and more companies expect even entry-level job candidates to have a degree. Without one, your career won’t go far and your income potential will be very limited. An online degree program can help you achieve your career and financial goals without requiring you to turn your life or your family upside-down. The options may seem overwhelming at first, but an online education is within your reach.
Research the Program
Before you settle on an online college or university, do your homework. Research the school’s reputation and find out whether it is accredited. Accreditation is important if you will need to transfer credits to another university, continue your education by earning a higher degree or obtain professional licensing. Though an unaccredited program is a perfectly acceptable choice for some people, it could affect your future opportunities.
Know the Costs
Tuition costs for online courses are often about the same as at brick-and-mortar colleges; however, an online education doesn’t require you to move to a new city or state, commute to campus or give up your job to attend classes on the school’s schedule. As you calculate the costs of various programs, factor in expenses such as high-speed internet service and an upgraded computer. Student loans and other financial aid are available for online education just as they are for traditional college degree programs.
Understand the Requirements
Online education programs aren’t all the same. Some involve downloadable podcasts or Power Point slides that match up with a recorded classroom lecture. Others use online forums and interactive conferencing via webcam to allow real-time dialog with the professor. Ask about typical class requirements for participation and interaction as well as requirements for computer equipment. You may be able to view a sample course to get a feel for how it works.
Set Yourself Up for Success
Flexibility, one of the biggest strengths of online education, is also one of the biggest potential problems for students. When class times aren’t on a schedule, it’s tempting to procrastinate. It takes a lot of self-discipline and commitment to stay on top of lectures, forum discussions, quizzes, reading assignments and other homework. To improve your chances of success, develop a strategy for tracking class requirements, minimizing interruptions and keeping yourself on task. It might also help to set up a dedicated space that has everything you need to complete your work. Single mothers might try doing their homework at the same time as their kids to emphasize the importance of study time.
Make the Most of the Experience
College is about more than reading books and taking tests. Despite the lack of a physical classroom, online education doesn’t have to be an isolating experience. Push yourself to find ways to make personal connections with professors and other students. Take advantage of discussion forums or live chats. Meet nearby students at a coffee shop for a study session. Look for college-sponsored events to attend in your area. It may take a little effort, but the networking relationships could pay off when you’re ready to look for a new job.
An online education offers many benefits for students who want to fit school into their lifestyle rather than changing their lifestyle to fit a class schedule. You can conquer online education, take control of your career and build a brighter future for yourself and your family.