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?

We used the CollegeNavigator tool from the National Center for Education and Statistics (NCES) to help us to find some of the best universities in the country offering online programs. In this section you’ll find excellent, accredited schools with a variety of online and hybrid certificate, undergraduate, and graduate degree programs to choose from (source: CollegeNavigator, data 2018).

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.

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.

Rasmussen College - Presenting an array of bachelor’s and associate’s degrees in such varied fields as accounting, healthcare management, justice studies, nursing, and technology and digital design, Rasmussen College’s online programs also offer students full career development training ”” including resume and cover letter guidance, mock interview prep, and efficient job search.

Antioch University - "Every passionate learner deserves the opportunity to advance their career and personal accomplishments. At Antioch University, our online degree options ensure you have the best opportunity to continue your education without putting your life on hold. Find an inspiring degree today, and begin your pursuit of a successful career and meaningful life.".

Colorado State University - Global Campus - "CSU-Global has met and exceeded its goal to create a digital learning environment that rivals the best traditional degree programs. At CSU-Global, your virtual classroom is designed to offer the same learning opportunities you’ll find at brick-and-mortar colleges and universities — and more — on a schedule that fits your life.".

Florida Institute of Technology - "Florida Institute of Technology (commonly called "Florida Tech" or "FIT") is a national, private, not-for-profit, technological, coeducational, doctoral-granting, research-intensive university. It is primarily residential, though it offers select degrees online and at off-campus learning locations throughout Florida, as well as in Alabama, Maryland, New Jersey, Missouri and Virginia.".

Grantham University - "Grantham University has an extraordinary purpose: We serve those who serve, and those who want to make a difference. We help those who need a second chance, and all those who never had a first chance, build successful lives through our unique curriculum and personal mentoring approach. Our graduates will have the most impact in strengthening our nation, and in turn, our world.".

Johnson and Wales University - "At Johnson & Wales University, we’ve developed a range of student services designed to make sure you have the tools and support you need to succeed. Our accredited online degrees place career-relevant curriculum at the core of the educational experience. All of our programs provide experience-based learning and plenty of practical opportunities to build your skills.".

Northcentral University - "Northcentral University educates professionals throughout the world and provides an accessible opportunity to earn a U.S. regionally accredited degree. Our highly credentialed faculty provides students one-on-one mentorship via advanced delivery modalities. At NCU, we are commited to helping students achieve academically and become valuable contributors to their communities and within their professions.".

University of Wisconsin Colleges - "As a student in a UW Flexible Option program, you will make progress by demonstrating what you know, whether that knowledge was gained through prior coursework, military training, on-the-job training, or other learning experiences. By emphasizing what you know rather than how much time you spend learning, this flexible format lets you advance toward a UW degree or certificate at a pace you set.".

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