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Earning a degree online: What to consider

Online degrees have become an increasingly viable alternative to traditional, campus-based degree programs. And thanks to the flexibility and convenience of online learning, as well as growing support among universities, more and more students are considering online options when pursuing their degree.

But before signing up for any online program, students need to be sure they are ready for the rigors of distance education. We asked faculty members from several prominent universities what students should consider before earning a degree online.

What advice would you give to students looking to earn their degree online?

Brian Harfe & Jennifer K. Smith, University of FloridaBrian Harfe, Associate Dean of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, & Jennifer K. Smith, Director of Development and Course Production for UF Online at the University of Florida

Convenience and lower cost make earning an online degree attractive. And with institutions continually expanding the available programs, there's no reason not to. Or is there? Your answers to the following questions can help you decide if you're ready to leap into an online degree program.

- Am I motivated?

Online education may be convenient, but that doesn't mean it doesn't ube trequire hard work. In fact, today's courses take full advantage of Internet resources to help students get the most out of their classes. In order for this to work, students must participate fully in their own learning. This can take some time, so you need to be sure that you are fully committed to getting your degree.

- Can I keep to a schedule?

Programs will vary according to the flexibility needed. Investigate how the courses are delivered and the general deadline requirements. Can you dedicate time each week to do the coursework? If the program requires you to attend live virtual classes, does your work/home/personal life allow for you to attend set meeting times? Every online program will expect you to make steady progress towards your degree. Can you consistently do the work to reach that goal?

- Is the program nationally accredited?

Accreditation means that your program has undergone quality review by an external review process. Getting your degree from an accredited program with national standing will help to ensure that employers and graduate schools recognize the quality of your degree.

- Can I get financial aid or scholarships?

Just as with traditional programs, financial help may be available. Some types of financial aid require full-time enrollment of 12 credits or more, which may be challenging for people who are trying to juggle home and work with classes. Check with the institution to see what options might be available to you.

Use free courses as a "trial run"

It can be challenging to keep up with your studies in the midst of work and family. For those returning to school after being away for some time, study skills may be rusty. Consider taking one or more free courses, such as those offered through Coursera.org. Such a course can help you "warm up" as well as give you realistic sense of what you can handle and whether an online degree is right for you.


Mary Oriol, Loyola UniversityMary Oriol, Associate Professor and Interim Director of School of Nursing at Loyola University New Orleans

I would advise students to know the needs of their facilities, their personal goals and finding a program that aligns with those aspirations. There are many online programs available, but what is important is finding one where the faculty are engaged and experienced with real-world situations. Consequently, students can feel confident in their opportunity to grow and apply what they are learning. That is a cornerstone of our methodologies at Loyola University New Orleans; we challenge our students to change their thinking and broaden that to include ideas and concepts like transformational leadership, evidence-based practice and global aspects of health care.










Lisa L. Templeton, Oregon State UniversityLisa L. Templeton, Executive Director of Oregon State University Extended Campus (Ecampus)

Do your research. Find the right program and institution that meets your needs, whether you are a working professional, stay-at-home parent, serving in the military or simply looking to finish what you started. And be active in your learning experience. There are resources and people available to help you feel connected to the university even if you are thousands of miles away. Our distance students constantly tell us how pleased they are with the amount and quality of interaction they have with instructors and classmates.










Renata Engel & Karen Pollack, Penn State UniversityRenata Engel, Associate Vice Provost for Online Programs, & Karen Pollack, Assistant Vice Provost for Undergraduate Online and Blended Programs at Penn State University

Pardon the pun, but I would advise them to do their homework! Look into the online programs they are interested in. What is the reputation of their programs and the quality of their faculty? What kinds of support services do they offer? Will the degree help you advance in your current career or start a new one? Will you be embraced as an equal and invaluable member of their learning community? If you can answer "yes" to these questions, and you are prepared to make the commitment and do the work, then you are well positioned to achieve your goals and do great things in this world.