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Online Education FAQs

What types of degrees are offered by online colleges and universities?

Today, students seeking an Associate, Bachelor’s, Master’s, and even some Doctorate degrees can find programs to meet their needs at online colleges and universities. Not all online schools offer all majors, however. Popular areas of study include:

  • Arts/Design
  • Business
  • Computers and IT
  • Criminal Justice
  • Culinary and Hospitality Services
  • Education
  • Engineering, Science, and Technology
  • Healthcare
  • Legal/paralegal
  • Liberal Arts
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Religion
  • Social Sciences

This is not an exhaustive list, and degree program offerings are expanding at many online colleges and universities. Be sure to check with any schools you may be considering to make sure they offer a program that matches your interests.

Do I need a high school diploma to attend an online school?

Yes. If you are seeking any higher educational degree, in most cases you will need to meet similar admissions criteria for an online college or university as you would for an on campus school. This includes a high school diploma or, in some cases, a GED.

How can I tell if an online college or university is legitimate?

First and foremost, make sure to check the accreditation of any schools you are considering. Accreditation ensures that the school meets U.S. Department of Education criteria and increases the degree’s legitimacy in the eyes of employers. It also is a good sign that you will be getting a quality education. Also check to make sure you can get an actual person on the phone in the school’s admissions office. If you always get a recorded message and generic e-mail replies, consider these red flags that the school may not be legitimate (at worst) or may offer sub-par interaction and student service (at best). It’s also a good idea to check reviews from other students.

Will potential employers view my online degree as positively as a degree from a campus-based school?

The short answer is that if your online school is accredited, potential employers should, in theory, treat it as legitimate as a degree from an established, brick-and-mortar university. In fact, the 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning reported that more than 75 percent of academic leaders at public institutions view online instruction as good or better than face-to-face education. That said, just as a community college will not have the same reputation as an Ivy League school, employers will have their own personal biases against or for online education. It is difficult to account for all such factors, but keep in mind that some fields of study are more suited to online education that others. If your intended major requires plenty of hands-on lab work, face-to-face collaboration, or use of expensive equipment, the quality of your education will likely be better at an on campus institution, and any potential employers will likely be aware of this.

How much does it cost to attend an online college or university?

Like on campus schools, tuition varies greatly across online colleges and universities. Some online schools charge tuition rates in line with their on campus equivalents. In general, the online branch of an established physical university will often have higher tuition rates than a school that exists only online. So you can’t necessarily count on saving a lot of money on tuition by attending a school online. You may, however, save money on transportation, housing, meals, and other expenses associated with on campus education. So, it’s important to evaluate the tuition, fees, and other expenses you will incur at any online schools you may be considering. Also, keep in mind that online schools offering bargain-basement tuition rates are often scams. Such diploma mills are often unaccredited, so be sure to check the accreditation of any schools -- online or otherwise -- that you may be considering.

Will I qualify for federal financial aid if I attend an online college or university?

Many (but not all) online colleges and universities participate in the federal financial aid program. To make sure your school will qualify, search for your school’s FAFSA code, and also check directly with the school’s financial aid office.

How do I apply to an online college or university?

The process to apply to an online college or university is often very similar to the application process for on campus institutions. View our guidelines here.

What supplies will I need to attend an online school?

In general, most students will need little more than a relatively new (purchased within the last three years) computer and a high-speed internet connection. You may also need physical books or e-books, a DVD player, and a device to backup your computer data. Read more about what you will need for online college.

Do I have to attend classes full time if I choose an online college or university?

In most cases, no. The ability to attend classes part-time and at your own pace is an attractive aspect of online education for many students. Keep in mind, however, that most online schools do specify that students complete courses within a certain number of months. This is helpful to keep online learners motivated and on track. In addition, keep in mind that most sources of federal education funding from the U.S. Department of Education require that students carry at least a half-time course load in order to qualify for federal aid to help pay for college.

How will I interact with other students and with the teacher of an online college or university?

Quality online colleges and universities should offer options for chat groups and online interaction in real time or via e-mail and collaborative tools. These tools can greatly enhance the quality of the student’s educational experience. When looking at online schools, ask questions about the interactive tools available, and how quickly teachers typically respond to e-mails from students. 

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