When it comes to making decisions, perhaps Shakespeare offered the best advice through his fictional Polonius: “To thine own self be true.” Prospective college students would be well-advised to take Polonius’ advice and give some thought to why they want to go to college and what they expect to accomplish once they have completed their studies.
The aim of this article is to help those individuals determine if online education is right for them by presenting them with some key points to consider prior to enrollment.
What are your intentions? Take a moment to ask yourself why you feel the need to further your education. Do you honestly want to better yourself, personally or professionally speaking, or are you trying to live up to someone else’s expectations? If the latter is true, you could find yourself wasting time and money by “chasing a dream” that is not yours instead of living your life as you see fit. You could also literally make yourself sick.
A study conducted by Noelle Leonard, PhD, an associate of New York University College of Nursing (NYUCN), revealed that stress some high school students experience as a result of trying to meet parental expectations can “contribute to academic disengagement and mental health problems among emerging adults.”
Parents wanting their children to excel academically is commendable; however, there is no conclusive evidence that substantiates the claim that a college education is the only “road” to personal and professional success. For example, there are lists of self-made millionaires and billionaires who never attended college that can be found in a number of authoritative business periodicals such as Forbes magazine.
What are your needs? Many online programs eliminate the need for commuting. This can be very beneficial to busy caregivers and people living with disabilities who want to further their education but may not be able to attend a brick-and-mortar campus.
In terms of tuition and other school related expenses, contrary to popular belief, online programs are not always more cost-effective than those offered offline. Your out-of-pocket expenses will largely depend on what your educational goals are. For example, accelerated degree programs can be very attractive to people dealing with time constraints. Unfortunately, some of these programs may be more expensive than those offered at offline institutions, which can prove to be problematic for individuals who do not qualify for various forms of financial aid. This is just one reason why it is imperative to do some “comparison shopping” before you decide to enroll in an online program.
Have you read the fine print? Sadly, it is not uncommon to read stories about people who unwittingly paid thousands of dollars for a useless certificate or degree because they didn’t know that their alma mater failed to meet standards set by U.S. Department of Education-approved accreditation agencies.
One of the best ways to avoid making the same mistake is to contact a representative of the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA.org) to see if the colleges you are interested in have proper accreditation prior to enrollment. If you find that the schools are neither nationally nor regionally accredited, they could be diploma mills.
Do you know what to expect? Now that you know what you want and what to look for, you may want to take advantage of some free online courses to familiarize yourself with online learning.
Coursera (coursera.org) is a popular “education platform that partners with top universities and organizations worldwide, to offer courses online for anyone to take.” As such, a wide variety of free courses that can help you expand your knowledge of several disciplines can now be accessed from your computer. Additionally, some of the courses offered via Coursera are “for credit” and may be applicable to a college degree.
Credit-based courses can reduce the overall cost of tuition and shorten the length of time that you would normally need to complete your studies.