Your Comprehensive Guide to Going to School Online

Learn what it takes to be successful with online education

If choosing the right school isn’t a daunting enough task, add the choice of online programs versus campus programs and the whole process can seem like a monolith to take on. Don’t worry; we’re here for you! This guide simplifies online education down to just the essential factors you need to consider when looking at online schools. For the patiently-impaired, use the links below to get to the information you’re looking for even faster:

Are Online Universities Accredited?

Simple answer: Yes! Generally speaking, online schools are at least accredited by a regional organization, like the Higher Learning Commission or the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. Sound familiar? That may be because these are the same accrediting bodies by some of the biggest schools in the nation, like Harvard University, Yale University, UCLA, etc. Online schools must meet the same curriculum standards and quality in order to achieve and maintain accreditation.

The result of online schools and programs adhering to the same guidelines as their campus counterparts is both perceivable and tangible. The Babson Survey Research Group works with the College Board each year to research distance learning and teaching. In 2011, they found that over half of the students surveyed felt the same level of satisfaction with online classes as ground courses.

Results from an online learning satisfaction survey

Source: American Public Media

In addition to regional accreditation, many programs are also accredited by professional organizations. Not all programs need to be accredited by a professional organization, but in some careers, like nursing or counseling, it can matter greatly. The best advice is to always research the accreditation of any online school you’re considering and see what accrediting bodies your career choice typical expects for a degree.

Do Online Schools Offer Financial Aid?

Online schools really aren’t that different from traditional schools when it comes to financial aid. FAFSA funding can be applied to the vast majority of online schools if you qualify for aid. Likewise, you can use scholarships and grants to attend an online school with little exception.

In many cases, online schools even offer scholarships to students. This isn’t always the case so you’ll need to research what financial aid the school offers and accepts. It’s also important to understand the differences between loans, grants, and scholarships and how to obtain them.

What are the Differences between Online Education and Traditional Education?

Interesting fact: many colleges that are considered “online schools” have campuses across the country that are used as testing and resource centers. Additionally, many “traditional schools” offer online degrees or at least online classes. So what are the differences between online education and campus-based classes?

Online classes share many things in common with their campus counterparts, but attending an online class does have its own unique advantages. Here’s a quick rundown of how the two options compare:

  Online Classes Campus Classes
Assignments and Lectures Delivered or assigned online via a user-friendly website, like Blackboard. Delivered or assigned in person by a professor. Some professors will also make class lectures and material available online and allow students to turn in assignments online.
Deadlines and Due Dates Assignments can be completed/turned in online at any time on the date it is due. Assignments are usually given a time (typically the beginning of class) in which they must be turned in. Some schools/professors allow assignments to be turned in online.
Peer Interaction Students are often encouraged to discuss topics and critique each other’s work in conversations similar to forum threads. Students can work together in person on team projects or study groups.
Attendance While physical attendance in not possible, discussion participation is usually required for assignments. Absentee policies can vary from school to school, but physical presence is required for attendance.

At the end of the day, knowing the differences between online education and traditional education doesn’t mean you’ll be successful at both. There are several traits that can contribute to a person being a successful online student, like self-motivation, organization, and a strong work ethic. Only research and reflection can determine if online classes are a right fit for you.

Can I Transfer Credits to and from an Online School?

Being “online” is rarely a factor when it comes to transferring credits either to or from a particular school. Each school has its own policies and guidelines when it comes to credit transfers. When looking to transfer to another school, be aware of the following factors:

  • How many credits the new schools will accept – this number fluctuates from school to school. Some schools will place a hard limit on credit transfers, allowing you to transfer up to a certain number of credit hours. Other schools set limits in terms of percentages.
  • GPA – you GPA could potentially limit your options while transferring. More selective schools will only accept students with a high GPA.
  • Course and program match – if a school doesn’t offer the program you’re pursuing, it is not likely you’ll be able to transfer any credits to that school.

Of course, there are many other factors that can affect your eligibility for credit transfer. When you know you’ll need to transfer to another school, research the policies of your current school and consider talking with an advisor to learn where and how to transfer credits between schools.

What are the Best Online Universities?

While there is no definitive list of the best online universities, a number of factors contribute to a school’s reputation, including faculty, accreditation, and career and students services. Below you’ll find some of the more popular online universities according to our user selection data that meet high academic standards and offer students quality educational programs.

Purdue University - Purdue University is one of the largest accredited online colleges, with degree programs available in a wide range of subject fields. Purdue University is committed to general education, a student-centered service and support approach, and applied scholarship in a practical environment.

Colorado Technical University - Colorado Technical University offers accredited online degrees in criminal justice, healthcare, information technology, business, and much more. CTU was founded in 1965 and is headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado. It is regionally accredited by the Higher Learning Commission.

American InterContinental University - AIU Online is the Web-based virtual campus of American InterContinental University. AIU understands that personal and professional responsibilities can make finding time to study a real challenge, so the degree programs provide students with the option to select between our full-time and part time schedules. AIU offers an innovative approach to education at its campuses in Atlanta, South Florida, Houston and London, as well as the Virtual Campus of AIU Online.

Liberty University - Liberty University is a Christian research university with both campus and online classes available. Join over 100,000 students across the globe, and earn an accelerated, accredited degree online through an efficient and flexible format that helps students achieve their academic and professional goals.

Northcentral University - Northcentral University offers online master’s and doctoral degree programs in accounting, business, computer technology, healthcare administration, criminal justice and general studies. The programs provide the flexibility and convenience of online learning while offering unparalleled mentoring and student support. For students interested in pursuing a graduate degree, NCU provides streamlined admission and education in the US.

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