12 Factors to Consider to Ensure You Choose a Credible Online Degree
Some Online Degree Programs Are Not Always What They Seem
Online degree programs are becoming more popular than ever before. For those who are trying to find a happy balance between work, life, and trying to further their career, getting a degree or master's degree online often seems like the most logical step.
Studying online has many benefits for students of all ages and at all educational levels. You may have decided to study for your degree online because of lower tuition fees or because you feel that it would be the best fit for you in terms of flexibility and fitting studying around continuing to work full-time or upholding any other commitments that are important to you.
For the most part, today's online degree programs are just as valuable and credible as their on-campus counterparts. Whether you get your degree online or in-person shouldn't matter when it comes to the quality of the qualification that you receive and the career pathways that it can open up for you. Unfortunately, some online degree programs and other online qualifications might not always be what they seem.
If you're considering studying for a degree online, knowing what to look out for and how to protect yourself from common scams is important. Otherwise, you could end up paying much more than you need to for your degree or worse, paying for a degree that isn't worth the paper it's written on.
We've put together a list of the main things to look out for when choosing an online degree course, to help you avoid scams and ensure that the course you choose is the right fit for you.
Access to Resources
The first factor to consider is the amount of access that students are given to the course's digital resources and the range of resources that are available. A course that has little available for students compared to the on-campus program could be a huge red flag; most good online courses will offer the same, if not even higher level of access to university materials and services to online students.
Students should not only be able to easily access course materials and electronic libraries, but they should also have full access to student services such as career advice, student helpdesks, and easy communication with module leaders.
While checking the amount of access that online students are given to university resources should help you confirm the credibility of a course, there are a few other factors that you should think about in order to ensure that a course and the university that it is awarded from are legitimate.
A top-rated university will offer a high-quality degree and a high student caliber; compare national rankings, awards, reviews, and accreditations. For example, if the university is a member of the Russell Group, you can be assured that it is among some of the top research institutions in the UK. For business degrees, look at accreditations from organizations such as the Association of MBAs and similar, relative to the country where the university is based. For example, click here to find out more about studying for an MBA online in the Middle East.
Engagement and Interactivity
Another big question to ask when shopping for online degree courses is whether or not the course was specifically designed to be studied by online students. In order to catch up, some universities have offered online versions of their most popular on-campus courses. However, these may not typically be the best choice since the course was not initially designed to be taken online and, therefore, may be more prone to error and issues – although this is not always the case, depending on the university's experience with offering online learning.
Check out the platform used to deliver online lessons; does the course use a cutting-edge, interactive platform? You can often get a feel for what to expect by checking out taster sessions and watching video demonstrations from the institution. Always be wary of any courses from lesser-known universities that don't offer anything for prospective students to get a clearer idea of what to expect before they begin.
When online learning comes to mind, many people simply don't realize that it can be just as social and interactive as learning on-campus. So, networking might not be a factor that you consider when shopping for an online degree course. But, meeting other students with something in common and building a professional network is often considered one of the most valuable things that you can gain from studying at university, especially for students who are enrolled in a postgraduate program.
Just like on-campus students, online students should feel that they are a valuable part of a community, sharing similar professional interests and industries. Because of this, the level of peer to peer interaction when learning should be an important factor to consider when you choose an online degree program. Look for a course where interacting with other students is crucial and where students are actively encouraged to build a network that is essential to their continued professional development.
Before making a commitment to a particular online degree course, it's important to take the time to gain a better understanding of the type of content that you can expect to cover when learning, and the learning outcomes that will be expected of you when gaining this particular qualification. A credible and legitimate university, whether it's mainly campus-based or online, will offer more information on their website about the types of courses that they offer and the modules that each course is broken down into.
Flexibility is one of the biggest reasons behind many students opting to study for an online degree course. While flexibility may not be able to tell you just how credible an online degree or university is, it's an important factor to consider in order to help you determine whether or not a particular course is the right choice for you. Consider your work, family, and other personal commitments and keep this in mind when determining how an online degree course is going to fit in.
Research the flexibility levels of the course by looking into factors such as whether or not the duration of the course can be extended if needed, whether or not there are any mandatory visits to campus included with the course, the amount of study time that you will be required to commit to each day or week, and the availability of any module electives. Before you begin, doing some research will help you gain a clear understanding of what will be expected from you as a student of the course, and how much flexibility will be offered in order to make sure that it is the right choice for you.
Another main factor to consider when choosing a university and online degree course is how much experience they have when it comes to delivering online learning. Some institutions are fully or mainly online, and if you want a university that's highly experienced with and focussed on online learning, this will be the best choice for you. However, as online degree courses have grown in popularity, many traditionally bricks-and-mortar universities have begun to offer distance learning options for some or all of their courses.
Look for a university that is well-known and recommended in the online learning industry and check out the 'About Us' section on their website to learn about how many years of online teaching experience it has. You might also find it helpful to read reviews or speak directly to current and past online students to help you determine whether or not the university is credible and if it is right for you.
Fees and Funding Options
Sometimes, online degrees can be cheaper than their on-campus counterparts simply because they are cheaper for the university to run. However, you can usually expect to pay around the same for either a part-time or full-time course. A legitimate, credible university will offer a variety of fee payment options to students. This will usually include making an upfront payment, paying in installments, or applying for funding.
A university that does not offer students the option to pay via a recognized intermediary or does not appear in the list when applying for a tuition fee loan, is a red flag to be aware of – even if you don't intend to get a student loan to pay for your degree.
New Student Orientation
Online learning has its benefits, but since students tend to be miles away from campus and only able to communicate through non-face-to-face channels, it does tend to be more difficult compared to on-campus learning. As a result, it's important that you select a university that understands this challenge for students and does as much as they can to support students as they make the transition to distance learning.
Look for a university that offers the support of a personal study or enrolment advisor to help you as you go along and be there to answer any questions that you might have throughout the enrolment process. Some universities also offer the option of a trial period or a free mini-course that you can take before you commit to applying to study for an online degree, which can be useful to help you get a clearer idea of what to expect as an online student.
One of the main benefits of online universities is that they typically offer a wide variety of courses. While this may be more limited compared to the courses available to study on-campus, you should usually find a diverse range of subjects for students to choose from. And, there should be a variety of electives available for each program in order to help you tailor your degree in the direction of your specific career interests or goals.
Another factor to consider is whether or not the university offers the option of studying online for the same subject at all degree levels; this will allow you to seamlessly stick with the same school when moving from an undergraduate to a master's degree, for example. And, check out whether or not the school offers a discount to students returning to study for an advanced degree with them.
Since the majority of online students are mature students looking for career progression or a complete career change, most online degree courses are very career-focused. If your reason for choosing an online degree course is to improve or change your career prospects, you will want to find a university that is able to support you with reaching your career goals both while studying and after graduation.
Look for a university that has a strong career support network. Ideally, you should be offered an online or telephone appointment with a careers advisor before confirming which course you would like to study; you will be able to talk through your goals and objectives with them and they can confirm which courses would be the best choice for you and talk you through your options before you make a decision. In addition, consider whether or not the university offers additional opportunities for career networking either online or in your local area.
Finally, students who are getting their degree online need to be assured that they have easy access to support services. Look for a university that is not only experienced with delivering online degree qualifications, but also has a strong technical support team to help you quickly deal with any IT problems that you might encounter, and academic support teams to help you select the right course, modules, and plan your study time efficiently. If you have a busy schedule and expect to be studying at unsociable hours, look for a university that offers student support options outside of usual business hours.
Most online degree courses today are just as credible and worth just as much as a degree gained on-campus, but it's easier to be fooled when signing up to study online. Keep these factors in mind as you look for a university.
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