Online diploma and certificate programs have become a new standard in education. Even students in traditional on-campus programs are coming to expect some of their classes to be offered in the online format. Online classes conform to students’ needs for flexible scheduling and combine independent and group work for a more complete educational experience. However, there are some things you should be aware of when searching for an online program.

Online, Hybrid, and On-Campus Classes

On-campus classes follow a traditional format of scheduled class meetings at a campus location. Students are expected to be in class each time it is scheduled and usually listen to lectures or participate in class discussions.

Online classes take a different approach. They conduct their business completely through the internet, with students logging on remotely to attend “class” or complete assignments. Online classes may have regularly scheduled meetings through an online classroom platform or they may require students to complete all work independently by emailing assignments to the professor. Some classes also allow students to form groups to complete certain tasks, although these group members may never meet face-to-face.

A new type of class that combines both of these approaches is known as a “hybrid” class. These classes were formed in response to student complaints about the sometimes isolating nature of completely online classes. Hybrid classes combine a few in-class, on-campus meetings with primarily online interaction. This allows students to take advantage of the convenience of online education but still meet with classmates and professors to gain support and exchange ideas.

Are Online Diplomas or Certificates Different From Those Given by On-Campus Programs?

Generally, online diplomas are identical to those given at “bricks-and-mortar” colleges. However, there are also some programs that do not conform to traditional requirements for degrees and may, as a result, confer diplomas that are not as valuable as a degree from a traditional school.

For example, there are many online programs that offer “certificates” in various technical fields but also make it clear that credits will not transfer to other programs. This is the best clue that a program is not designed to meet general standards for a degree but is instead a self-contained course of study. These programs may not provide you with the type of training to pass state licensure exams and some employers may not recognize these degrees as qualifications for jobs.

However, if you can find an online program that is accredited by a national or regional organization that accredits on-campus programs, you should not have any trouble with a degree from that school. Online schools that are accredited must meet the same standards as on-campus programs for their curriculum and assessment procedures.

How Much Do Online Degree Programs Cost?

Many online schools are for-profit ventures and are therefore more expensive than on-campus programs, especially at public universities. However, not all online programs are expensive. You can often get financial aid to help you pay for schooling through an online program in the same way that you can receive aid for on-campus schools.

Online courses offered through traditional schools usually have the same tuition rate as on-campus classes, although some schools do charge more or less for these classes. You may also face out-of-state tuition if you do not live in the same state as the program for which you are applying, and this can cost you as much as four times the normal tuition rate for your school. Research your options carefully before choosing an out-of-state online program and be sure you understand how your tuition costs will be calculated.

Are Online Programs Best for Me?

You should be honest with yourself about your ability to do online work. You must be highly motivated and need little supervision if you are going to succeed in a totally online environment. You may be required to work independently quite a bit and will be communicating with your professors mainly by email, so you may not have the face-to-face support you are used to from high school. If you are going to sign up for an online program, it is often a good idea to limit your coursework the first semester to one or two classes so that you can learn the format you will be using and pace yourself to finish your coursework on time.

Of course, you can still get support in online classes just as you would in on-campus classes. Professors are usually available by email, online chat, and phone, but you must take the initiative to ask for help when you need it. You should also learn to take the initiative in scheduling your study and work time. Since many online students also hold part-time or full-time jobs, you should learn to schedule your work and study times so that you have plenty of time to devote to the reading and research that will be necessary in your courses.

You may also need to schedule time to work on-site at an internship position. Many online programs help you schedule required internship hours at a local job site so that you can easily complete your requirements for your degree.

Online Degree programs certainly fill a need in today’s busy society and choosing the right program can allow you an opportunity for advanced education that may never before have been possible.

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