Have you noticed the recent increase in Cloud drives, offered by everyone from Microsoft to Google to Kindle? Or the fact that everywhere from bookstores to some grocery stores is starting to offer Wi-Fi? The trend towards a world run completely online is growing exponentially.

Schools are not excluded from this trend. Some high schools are even ditching textbooks in favor of material from e-books and websites. We already have virtual public schools (my best friend graduated from an online high school)… and virtual colleges are only the next step.

Unfortunately, a few unscrupulous companies have tried to take advantage of this trend by making illegitimate or unaccredited schools. If you have decided that an online degree is best for you, it’s important to know the difference between a good online degree and a bad one.

1. Accreditation

Any college can become accredited by a private agency based on that agency’s rules and guidelines. However, this does not mean that their accrediting agency’s standards of education are any good. The reason that this is so important is for equivalency reasons; if you go to an unaccredited community college for two years, and try to transfer to an accredited university afterwards, those credits are not backed by the same standards; essentially, they mean nothing. This is not just important for transferring schools, but also for jobs; employers know when a school is illegitimate.

How to combat this? Your school will tell you what agency gave them accreditation. Make sure the US Department of Education supports that agency.

2. School ranking

There are many great resources to check your school’s ranking; I prefer US News’s search tool. Kaplan University is an oft-quoted but controversial online degree program; it does not appear in search results. However, the University of Illinois’s Springfield campus is ranked #28 in regional universities in the Midwest. (Full disclosure: this is my college, but this is not a sponsored post!) It’s not that an unranked university should be automatically disqualified; just that it looks a bit better if the university has a ranking.

3. Acceptance rate

A college’s acceptance rate tells you what standards they require – or if they have any at all. The lower the acceptance rate, the better chance that it’s a good school

4. Brick-and-mortar colleges

One of the reasons that I ended up choosing UIS for my degree program is that it is a “brick-and-mortar” college, meaning that it has a campus and offers on-campus degrees as well. A typical BAM college has been giving out degrees since long before online degrees existed at all, and decided to see what technology could do in the classroom. If you’re worried about a school’s reputation, it’s better to go with a school that has been giving out degrees for an extended period.

5. Your major

Keep in mind that not every online college will offer every degree program. As an English major, I was somewhat limited as to what colleges were available. However, I noticed that there are a lot more opportunities for an online degree program in nursing.

 

All in all, use the same guidelines for choosing an online degree program that you would for choosing a college. Price, rankings, in-state vs. out-of-state, and all those other tips you may have seen in our article on choosing the perfect school still apply. Be smart and happy hunting!

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