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Online College Education FAQ

Let our Experts Help you Decide

How Can I Save Money on my Online Classes?

What is Distance Learning?

What are the Cons of Distance Learning?

What are the Pros of Distance Learning?

Is Financial Aid Available for Distance Learners?

What Equipment is Required to Learn Online?

What is Accreditation?

How Do I Choose an Online School?

Who Can Take Online Classes?

Is Distance Learning for Everyone?

Is an Online Degree the Same as a Traditional Degree?

What Is Required to Apply to an Online School?

 

How Can I Save Money on my Online Classes?

Apply for Grants and Scholarships
Most online schools will offer some form of grants and/or scholarships. Grants generally are offered based on a student’s financial need as determined by the results of their FAFSA. Scholarships are awarded based on many different qualifying factors, sometimes including financial need, scholastic achievement, community involvement, or affiliation with an employer, group, or industry. However, each scholarship will have individual requirements. Grants and scholarships do not have to be repaid. If a student believes that they may qualify for a grant or scholarship, they should discuss their options with the financial aid office at their college.

Choose Student Loans Wisely
There are different types of loans available to students who are studying on a college level. Federal and state student loans are typically the best options because they operate at a low interest rate and do not require payments until after a student graduates or leaves school. These loans can be either subsidized or unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are the best money-saving option because they do not accrue interest while the student is enrolled at least half-time in classes. Unsubsidized loans do accrue interest while the student is in school, leading to a loan that will have a greater balance when you graduate than it did when you first took it out.

Look for Employer Reimbursement Programs and Special Discounts
If you are employed while you are in college, you may want to find out if your employer offers some form of student reimbursement program. The way this typically works is that the student pays for their tuition upfront and then their employer pays them back at the end of the semester granted that they satisfactorily complete their courses. Employers generally offer this form of program when the degree that the student is seeking is a degree that would enable them to advance within the company. Furthermore, many colleges will offer discounts to certain persons, such as military veterans or Peace Corps volunteers. Students may want to consider these options when choosing an online school.

Play It Safe when Scheduling Classes
The fastest way to waste your money in college is to drop classes in the middle of the semester. Colleges typically offer a short grace period in which students can drop classes without penalty; however, after this grace period, the student will be charged tuition for all or part of the course fees. For example, if a student drops a class two weeks in, they may only be entitled to 75% of their tuition returned. After three weeks, they many only get 50% back. After four, they may only get 25% back. And, after five, they may not receive any refund on the cost of the course. The solution to this is simple – don’t over schedule yourself in a way that may later force you to drop courses. If you know that you’re capable of devoting enough time to take two courses a semester, then don’t try to take four in order to finish faster. You’ll end up having to drop classes, and this will cost you more money for your degree in the long run.

 

What is Distance Learning?

Distance learning is a type of educational institution in which students do not have to be present in a classroom in order to take and pass postsecondary courses. The main distinguishing characteristic of distance learning is that the interaction between the students and instructor occurs by means other than face-to-face contact, though the communication does not necessarily have to take place over the Internet. However, the most common form of distance learning occurs online through means of bulletin boards, chat rooms, streaming video, and video conferencing.

 

What are the Cons of Distance Learning?

Extra Responsibility
In a classroom setting, your grade generally depends at least in part on your attendance. Furthermore, if you are not turning in assignments or showing up for tests, you have to face your professor and explain to them your reasons for slacking off. However, in an online class, you never see your instructor face to face. You are solely responsible for entering your classroom when you have the time and turning in your homework when it’s due, as well as taking your tests. Though completing any degree program requires responsibility, taking an online class requires that you have an added sense of responsibility and dedication.

Lack of Hands-On Learning
Unless you are pursuing a degree in the field of computers or information technology, you will not have access to any of the hands-on learning techniques that are often necessary for programs such as nursing. However, many programs, such as business or writing, do not necessarily have any elements that require hands-on learning.  Additionally, many students in online programs that require hands-on learning experiences find internships in their field where they receive the training that they did not get in their online classroom.

Lack of Personal Interaction
If you attend college on a campus, you have access to the students in your classes as well as those that belong to the same clubs or groups that you do. Furthermore, you have personal access to your professors, which often can create a better relationship with those individuals. However, in an online classroom, you never meet your fellow students face to face. At the same time, you are able to communicate with them via chat rooms, discussion boards, IM, and email. Additionally, students from all over the world enroll in online degree programs, so students in online classes have the potential to make friends from places other than simply their own communities.

 

What are the Pros of Distance Learning?

Added Convenience
Most online degree programs do not have set times in which all students must be online and in the classroom. In fact, because students from all over the world attend online schools, it’s almost impossible for a college to set a specific time in which all students must be present due to differences in time zones. The result is that students can view and respond to class discussions whenever they have the time, even if that time is three o’clock in the morning. This allows students to work full-time, take care of their families, and run chores while still attending college. This is almost impossible in a campus-based institution due to the inflexibility of class schedules and the requirement that students attend classes. Remember, however, that even though you do not have to be in the online classroom at any certain time, you will have deadlines on homework and tests.

Accessible Research
Many people struggle with simply sitting down and reading a textbook. With recent advances in Internet technology, however, online course materials have become more and more interactive and interesting. Students can watch streaming video rather than reading chapters of books, they can access entire online libraries through their school without having to spend the entire day away from home, and they can conduct all of their research for answering classroom discussion questions before they have to answer. Furthermore, information technology and computer-based study students will have all of the tools they need right at their fingertips.

Job Experience
It’s almost impossible to hold a full-time job as a student of a campus education. However, it is not as hard for online degree students because of the flexibility of classes. This means that many online degree students are able to get jobs in their field of study prior to ever graduating. The extra experience sets them ahead of campus-educated students in the job market after graduation. Furthermore, many employers offer tuition reimbursement programs to full-time employees who also attend college, so, in addition to making more money than campus-educated students, they are also saving more money on their tuition costs in the long run.

 

Is Financial Aid Available for Distance Learners?

Yes, though the specific programs offered depend on the individual school. Most online schools will offer grants, student and parent loans, and scholarships – the same offerings you’d find in a campus-based institution. Occasionally, online schools will offer some form of work-study, though this is rarer than the other forms because online students generally do not live in the vicinity of the school’s campus. Some online schools even offer special discounts for things such as military service or upfront payment of tuition, though these discounts are entirely school-specific.

If you think that you may qualify for financial aid, make sure to take note of the programs that are offered by each school that you are considering before applying. If you are going to depend on federal grants for paying your tuition but enroll in a school that doesn’t offer them, you’ll simply have to start over again with the application process. Additionally, certain online databases list scholarships that anyone can qualify for regardless of the online vs. campus status of their college.

 

What Equipment is Required to Learn Online?

While the specific equipment and software you’ll need will vary depending on the school you choose and the program you’re studying, there are a few general necessities of online study. First, you’re going to need a computer with an operating system no older than Windows XP if you’re using a PC, or either Windows XP or Mac OS X if you’re using a Macintosh. You’ll need to have access to some form of high-speed Internet -- dialup won’t cut it in classes where you have to watch streaming video or download large files.

You may want to download Adobe Acrobat, a commonly-used file viewing program that can be downloaded for free through Adobe’s website. You’re probably going to need a word processing program, most likely Microsoft Word. If you choose to go with a cheaper word processing program, be aware that your professors must also have that program installed on their computers in order to view your files. If you don’t already have a word processing program, check with your school before purchasing one and find out what software program they utilize most often.

 

What is Accreditation?

An accredited school is an institution that has been successfully evaluated by an association of schools and colleges. In the U.S. there are six regional accrediting agencies: Western, Middle States, North Central, New England, Southern, and Northwest. Accrediting agencies evaluate a school based on certain established criteria, including, but not limited to, things such as the school’s governance, financial stability, administration, effectiveness, student learning, mission, and history. Essentially, a school that is accredited has been deemed a competent educational institution by an outside, objective agency.

 

How Do I Choose an Online School?

Consider the Programs that Each School Offers
This may be the most obvious thing that a student should consider when choosing an online school; however, it goes beyond just making sure that the school you choose awards the degree you are seeking. For example, you’ll not only want to make sure that the schools you consider offer the program that you wish to enter, you’ll also need to investigate the program and decide if the curriculum meets your needs. If you want to major in business but study primarily marketing, then you’ll want to make sure that the school you choose offers a business concentration in marketing. Furthermore, you need to consider the higher degrees that the school offers if you think you might want to pursue a bachelor’s degree after your associate’s or a master’s degree after your bachelor’s. It’ll be much easier on you in the long run if you are able to stick with one school for more than one degree.

Consider the Faculty
You’ll want to look at who teaches the courses in the program you’re entering prior to choosing an online school. Ideally, your professors will hold at least a master’s or professional degree in their field, and they’ll be experienced in the area they teach. Most schools will offer faculty profiles on their websites where you can get an idea of who will be teaching your courses.

Consider the Cost
To consider the cost of obtaining an online degree, you’ll need to look at two things: the tuition rates and financial aid. If you’re going to depend on federal grants to pay for your education, then you’ll want to make sure that the school you choose offers federal grants. Furthermore, you’ll want to make sure that the tuition rates are both reasonable and comparable to other schools that offer identical programs. If you don’t intend to rely on financial aid in order to cover tuition expenses, you’ll want to make sure that you’ll be able to afford your tuition cost for the duration of your degree.

Look for Accredited Schools
While an unaccredited school does not necessarily signify a lack of educational capability, it does represent a risk. Accredited schools have established themselves as long-standing, capable educational institutions, meaning that they’re unlikely to close in the middle of your degree or exist simply as a money-making scheme. Just as it’s better to get your car fixed at a shop that’s recommended by the Better Business Bureau, it’s better to learn at an accredited school.

Consider the Flexibility of the Program
Whether you’re hoping to complete your degree as soon as possible or you want to spend years earning your degree at a pace that fits your busy lifestyle, you’ll want to consider the flexibility of an online school’s programs. If you are hoping to take one class a semester, then you’re not going to want to enroll in a program that has a graduation deadline. Likewise, if you want to finish as soon as possible by taking as many classes as you can handle, you’re not going to want to enroll in a program that only allows students to enroll for two classes a quarter. Furthermore, if you need to be in your classroom at various times during the week, you won’t want to enroll in a program that requires students to be present in the virtual classroom at the same time every day. Program flexibility is generally one of the most important aspects of choosing an online school.

 

Who Can Take Online Classes?

In general, anyone can take online classes, though there are some exceptions. As with any postsecondary degree program, students will need a high school diploma or GED certificate prior to enrolling in a degree program. Furthermore, some schools that are primarily campus-based require that students maintain a certain GPA in order to qualify to take online courses. However, in the case of online schools, generally anyone can take online classes. It’s best to check with the online school you are considering in order to determine that they don’t have individual prerequisites.

 

Is Distance Learning for Everyone?

Not necessarily. Distance learning requires that a student has a significant sense of responsibility as well as a determination to succeed. While this true for any postsecondary study, it is even more applicable in distance learning. In an online course, the student is ultimately responsible for their own success or failure -- the flexible structure of online courses makes it easy for some students to slack off and forgo doing their work. Studying online requires that the student does all of his or her work individually, including reading assigned materials, writing essays, and turning in homework and tests.

Additionally, online learning in general is best suited for persons that are at least mildly computer literate. Because taking an online course requires that you are able to sufficiently navigate the Internet, utilize specific computer software programs, and work in a virtual classroom, it is a good idea that non-computer literate individuals educate themselves in basic computer literacy prior to enrolling in an online school.

 

Is an Online Degree the Same as a Traditional Degree?

Yes. In fact, many traditional degree awarding institutions are now awarding online degrees. For example, a graduate of Virginia College who studied on their campus would receive the exact same degree as one who completed their entire degree online. Take note, however, as to what program you apply to in an online school. Many offer diploma and certificate programs for trade occupations – these are not the same as the associate, bachelor, master, or doctorate degrees that are typically offered in a campus-based institution.

 

What Is Required to Apply to an Online School?

This depends primarily on the school that you are applying to. In general, an application to an online school will be similar to that of a campus-based school and will include things like a high school diploma or GED certificate, transcripts from prior colleges, an admissions essay, test scores (SAT, ACT, GRE, etc.), and letters of recommendation. Additionally, some online schools may require that students complete an admissions test prior to enrollment. However, this is not true for every school. Many online schools have more lenient application requirements and may admit nontraditional students that do not have access to all of the above materials.

 


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