by Allison Landa
When you choose to enroll in an educational program — whether your goal is an associate degree, bachelor’s degree, master’s degree or professional certification — it’s crucial for you to feel confident your degree program will hold weight in the working world.
While a traditional degree is earned in a classroom setting, online learning (also known as distance learning) uses the Internet to bring the classroom to the student. This change in structure allows the student to “attend school” when it is most convenient — day or night. But with all the many perks of online learning, how do you know if the online school and degree program you choose is credible?
The idea of earning an online degree is still new to many education traditionalists, but that does not lower the credibility of a degree from a well-researched, accredited school with a reputation for educational excellence.
1. School Accreditation
A credible online school or degree program will be accredited by an agency or association recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
Accreditation is a strict, multi-year approval process that ensures a school or individual degree program meets a certain standard of quality. Before enrolling in an online program, be sure to thoroughly investigate the school’s website for information about its professional accreditation. If it is not readily available, try using the site’s search box to find the term “accreditation.” If your search is unsuccessful, contact a representative from the school or online degree program for more information.
2. Quality Instructors
Before booking online classes, spend time researching your future instructors. Are they knowledgeable in your area of study? Class listings or descriptions always include a brief blurb about the professor or instructor. This information should include the teacher’s educational background, career experience or special achievements. If you are taking an online writing class, for example, find out which qualifications make your professor ideal. Did she publish a successful book? Has she worked for a famous publication?
When searching for a credible online school or degree program, contact (if possible) professors as well as current students. This research will yield information that can help you choose the best possible online degree program to match your preferences.
3. Educational Excellence
Some online degree programs have been around longer than others, but that doesn’t mean they will be viewed as “credible” by future employers who aren’t knowledgeable about distance learning. Regardless how you cut it, the old adage remains: Reputation is everything.
As part of your research, find news articles that have been published about the online schools you are considering. Read blogs, reviews and forums that discuss specific schools you find interesting. Ask questions and post comments until you feel you have gathered enough “real world” feedback.