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Let Online Colleges Work to Your Advantages

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Today online education has become a major alternative to traditional schools, offering a new path for people like me – who would like to continue learning or earn a higher degree with home ease and at self pace.

The blossom of internet has revolutionized our way of learning. Just with a computer and internet access, we can attend online classes and update knowledge or skills in any specific area, such as art, health care, cosmetology, literature and management. Without interrupting our daily schedules, online colleges are well sought after by full-time workers or parents who want to advance skills or pursue a higher degree.

Then, what sharp differences exist between online colleges and traditional brick and mortar schools? The most obvious difference is that online colleges boast the easier accessibility. Computer and internet have made it possible for students living in rural areas to continue education. But traditional schools require students, regardless of where they live, to attend everyday classes on campus.

Online schools deliver courses or programs primarily or exclusively via the internet, while traditional classes take place in a brick and mortar classroom or a workplace setting. For distance learning, classes, lectures, homework and exams could be completed online, saving your money in commuting, books and accommodations.

To most online students, the biggest draw of online colleges is the self-paced study. As we know, in traditional colleges or universities, the average time length for earning a bachelor’s degree is about 4 years, and your learning is based on the schools’ schedules. However, online schools allow you to learn at your pace, so you can complete your degree in less time, maybe 2 to 3 years or even within several months.

Plus, traditional schools usually require students to purchase books or other handout materials, but there are fewer requirements on learning materials for online courses, as everything is offered via the internet and students can choose to download or print the course materials.

Therefore, with accelerated learning pace and less learning materials, online colleges could be a cost-effective way for people who work in full time or find it difficult to adapt to traditional learning styles.

However, can online education replace traditional education since there are so many benefits associated with enrolling into an online college? Of course NOT! Though online colleges provide us with more affordable access to higher degree, we should not ignore the hidden drawbacks.

As online classes take place over the internet, there are rarely face-to-face communications between students and instructors, but traditional classes can offer this component. In a brick and mortar classroom, you can communicate with instructors or fellow students whenever a question arises.

Additionally, when it comes to online education, you should be responsible for your learning, which requires you to be self-disciplined in order to complete the assignments.

Just like choosing and comparing traditional colleges, selecting an online college that is right for you is also a daunting job – sometimes stressful. Currently in the US, there is a large number of online colleges and universities, some well known while some less known. To make your final decision worth your money and time, I suggest you to refer to my steps below, which help you find out the best online college for you!

Step 1. Online colleges come with a wide range of programs. Think carefully which major you are interested in or which area you would want to enter after graduation. With such ideas in mind, you can narrow your options.

Step 2. Make sure the online colleges on your list are accredited. Accreditation means that an online college or program meets the curriculum, teaching and operating standards set by accrediting agencies recognized by US Department of Education or the Council of Higher Education Accreditation.

Accreditation in the US is divided into regional level and national level. There are only 6 regional accrediting agencies in the US, committed to the accreditation of educational institutions and schools in the specific section of our nation.

Accredited online colleges ensure you the same quality education you receive as their on-campus students. You will be provided with a broad variety of coursework, a great amount of class options, financial aids and even internship opportunities.

In addition, if the online college you attend is accredited by any of the following 6 agencies, your college credits are transferable to any other college or university that is also accredited by one of the 6 regional accreditation agencies.

• New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC)
• North Central Association Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement (NCA)
• Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges (MSA)
• Southern Association of Schools and Colleges (SASC)
• Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC)
• Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges (NWCCU)

To verify if the online colleges or universities you are considering are accredited, you can go to Department of Education database for accredited institutions and programs.

Step 3. Here, do you have particular requirements on the learning length or need financial help? The time length for completing a program would vary from one school to another, and besides, many accredited schools provide financial aids for online students. So based on your personal conditions, cross off the schools or programs that do not meet your needs.

Step 4. Gather information and reviews about each online college you are considering. Resources include internet, the schools’ websites, and forums. Actually, a personal visit to the virtual campus will help you gain an in-depth overview, since many online colleges and universities have some sort of real campus. This step helps you avoid scams or diploma mills.

Step 5. Apply for the online colleges that remain on your list. As for how many schools you should apply for, this depends on you. But make sure the online schools on your list are right for you in terms of learning areas and terms, tuition fees, class schedules, as well as degree programs. Make the final decision among the online colleges that accept your applications.

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