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Tackling Online Degree Programs: Finding the Right Program for You

Consulting a book that outlines various online degree programs is a good idea, but it is likely that the book will not be an exhaustive listing of all programs available. This is because new programs may have been added since the book was written, or perhaps they only listed the most sought after. The best place to search is on the Internet. If you are going to be using the Internet to earn your degree, the program had better have some good, accessible information on the 'Net. Some resources to help you get started are in the Degree Programs section of this Web site.

And, of course, you can always type the desired degree into your favorite search engine to see what you get. I have found that none of these options is
likely to be exhaustive, so if at first you don't find the perfect program, search a little further.

Browsing the featured online programs directory will give you an overview of several online schools and the programs they offer and allow you to request information from the schools that most interest you. Generally, each school will send you an e-mail containing links to their site and many will follow up with a phone call within a few days. Take this opportunity to ask questions. Don’t forget, however, that you will likely be speaking with an admissions counselor and he or she may not be able to offer all the specifics you need. A really good recruiter will offer other sources for information. For example, Capella University has an associate licensing specialist to answer questions about programs designed to help you obtain licensure. You can also contact the program director for information specific to your program of interest.

Some important questions to ask before selecting a program are described as follows:

Is the school accredited and by whom?
The school should be accredited by one of the six major regional accrediting bodies or another recognized agency. There are times when it may not matter if the school is accredited, but make this determination very carefully. You could run into problems if you later pursue a higher degree, want to transfer credits, or apply for a job. It is a good idea to check the website of the agency the school claims to be accredited by and verify the school is listed on their site.

Does the specific program have any special accreditation?
Learn about accreditations that are important to your specific program. CACREP accreditation for counseling programs can make it much easier to be licensed in other states. APA accreditation for doctorate level clinical psychology programs is necessary for licensure in some states. At this time, the APA has not accredited any online programs in clinical psychology. The right accreditation is essential in many fields.

Are you required to spend any time on campus?
Some programs require an orientation period on campus while others are completely online. Chances are, if you are going into counseling or a similar field, you will be required to make one or more trips to have face-to-face contact with your instructors and fellow students. This can add a considerable amount of additional cost. Be sure to ask if room and board are already included in tuition. Generally, travel to and from the school is not factored into the overall cost.

Is there an internship or practicum requirement?
In some programs, like counseling, you will also be required to do an internship or practicum as part of your curriculum. This will have to be coordinated between the university and a supervisor that you select. Be sure to ask what the requirements are and what type of assistance the school offers in helping you arrange this type of position. Make sure that a suitable place exists in your area.

What is the cost of the program and the refund policy?

What type of financial aid is available and how do you apply for it?
Don’t forget to ask about programs specific to your situation. For example, many online programs offer lower tuition for military members and their spouses.

How will information be delivered – email, blackboard, videotape?

What is the rate of employment for graduates?

What is the rate of success on licensing or certificate examinations?

How long is the program expected to take for completion? What is the time limit for completion?

How many online programs does the school offer? How many years have they been offering your degree?

How many students are in the program? What is the student to faculty ratio?

Are there former graduates that I could contact about their experience?
To protect student privacy, many schools will not allow this. However, they may be able to contact former students to ask if they are willing to speak with you. It never hurts to ask. You may also be able to find some information in an alumni newsletter that would indicate graduate success and satisfaction with the program.

This list is by no means exhaustive, so make certain you ask every question you can think of that might be important to your future. If at first you do not get the information you need, keep asking and consulting different sources until you are satisfied. The initial search may be time consuming, but will be well worth it when you are able to realize your career goals. Making yourself aware of the details beforehand will make for a much more enjoyable and satisfying experience.

See also Should You Get Your Degree Through Distance Learning?, Online Education Gets Accolades, and How Do Employers View Online Degrees?

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