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An Online Degree Program - Is It Right For You?

Oct 25, 2007
If you are already working full-time, an online degree program may be the perfect way to continue your education. You can earn an online degree in many popular fields, from criminal justice to business management. An online program allows you to perform class work on your own schedule, offering a way for those who work swing shifts to participate. Here's what you should know if you are considering getting an online degree.

Accreditation

Many online campuses are affiliated with major colleges and universities. Others exist only in the online realm. It is not important which organizational structure your online campus uses as long as the program is fully accredited. Most, but not all, online universities are accredited. Accreditation is particularly important if you plan to apply for financial aid or go on to graduate school. Check into the status of any program you are considering.

Scheduling

Most online university programs are designed for working professionals. As such, they provide great flexibility in scheduling. A typical online class will be conducted in a message board format, in which the instructor posts the lecture at the beginning of each week. Students interact with each other and with the professor via conversational threads. Assignments are typically due at the end of the week.

Some online classes require students to log into a secure server to take tests and quizzes, while others base course grades strictly on student-generated written assignments. If you must take tests, a window of time (perhaps 24 hours) is generally provided for test periods.

Some online programs, particularly those that are affiliated with major colleges or universities, require more restrictive scheduling. You may be required to participate in videoconferences or other group activities at specific times. Alternately, your grade may partially be dependent on daily participation in class discussions. Other programs require a certain percentage of time to be spent on campus. This generally involves a weekend on campus at the beginning of the program and up to a week at the end.

If scheduling is a concern, carefully read the materials that are provided by any online degree program that you are considering. Be sure that you understand class participation requirements, on campus requirements and scheduling considerations.

Financial Aid

If your degree program is accredited, then you will be eligible for federal aid. Additionally, many programs provide in-house scholarships, grants and fellowships for eligible students. If financing your education is a concern, contact the school's financial aid office for more information.

Workload

For many working professionals, the biggest concern about returning to school is the increased workload. Most online degree programs are designed around the needs of people who work full time. Consequently, you will generally find that the expected workload is less than that of an in-person degree program. In some online programs, taking two classes is considered a full time load. This grants half-time status to those students who are taking only one class, allowing all students to qualify for federal financial aid.

An online degree program is an excellent alternative for those who feel that they do not have time to go back to school. As long as the program is fully accredited, the degree that you receive will be just as valid as one earned at an in-person university. Look carefully into any program that you are considering. In order to understand class expectations and scheduling issues, set aside some time before your class starts to familiarize yourself with the school's software, policies, and procedures. Online universities have a bit of a learning curve, but once you master the system you will be able to earn a degree without giving up your day job.
About the Author
Andy West is a writer for Virginia College. To learn more about online degree programs, visit Virginia College Online. Article marketing by Vertical Measures.
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