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    How to Choose the Best Online College

    By Cece Gilmore

    Cece Gilmore is a Content Writer at Scholarships360. Cece earned her undergraduate degree in Journalism and Mass Communications from Arizona State University. While at ASU, she was the education editor as well as a published staff reporter at Downtown Devil. Cece was also the co-host of her own radio show on Blaze Radio ASU.

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    Reviewed by Caitlyn Cole

    Caitlyn Cole is a college access professional with a decade of experience in non-profit program and project management for college readiness and access organizations.

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    Edited by Maria Geiger

    Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

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    Updated: April 15th, 2024
    How to Choose the Best Online College

    Online colleges are convenient, flexible, and typically cheaper than in-person colleges. Therefore, it is not surprising that more and more students are turning to online colleges to earn their degrees. However, there are such a large number of online colleges to choose from. As I share later in the article, attending an online college was ideal for me when the Covid 19 pandemic hit. The following advice stems from personal experience when faced with choosing an online college. So, let’s learn how to choose the best online college for you! 

    Why choose an online college? 

    Online college is an option for earning your degree either after high school or as a nontraditional learner. Online colleges offer different experiences from in-person colleges, which some students view as beneficial to their lives. However, attending a 100% online college is not for everyone. Some students would be more successful in a more structured environment with face-to-face support. There are some amenities that online colleges can never offer, such as seeing live on-campus speakers or attending sporting events. The following list is just the beginning of what attending an online college can offer the right student. 

    Perks of attending an online college

    Flexibility

    One of the main benefits of online college is the flexibility. Online colleges are either synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous means that you will attend classes at a specific time each week, usually through a video conference such as Zoom. Asynchronous means you will be assigned coursework to complete at your own pace and you may be given some deadlines to complete. Having asynchronous work allows a student to complete their schoolwork around their own schedule. This allows for students to manage college while having a full-time job or doing other activities during the day. 

    Lower cost

    Online college typically will have a lower tuition rate per credit hour, which may make it a more affordable option. Even if the college credit cost is as expensive as in-person college, you can save money in other ways such as not having to pay for housing, a meal plan, and/or the added cost of commuting. 

    Related: Average cost of college in the U.S.

    Career advancement

    Online college provides the opportunity to receive a degree to advance your career. A gigantic perk of online college is that you would not have to quit your job while you earn your degree. 

    Read more: Online vs in-person college: which is right for you? 

    How to choose the best online college

    Find an accredited online college

    Accreditation is a status that colleges and universities achieve based on the fulfillment of certain academic standards. Essentially, an accredited college means that the education provided by the institution meets certain criteria as determined by a group of experts. 

    Finding an accredited online college is important in order to ensure that your quality of education is high, you are eligible for financial aid, and that you are able to transfer institutions if necessary. Attending an accredited college means that you will receive a quality education that has been reviewed and deemed acceptable. Additionally, if you attend an unaccredited institution, you will not be eligible for federal financial aid. Lastly, an accredited online college will allow you to transfer colleges seamlessly if need be. If you need help determining if the college you’re interested in is accredited properly or not, reach out to your school counselor or check the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. 

    Decide on your major

    If you have determined what you want to major in, this could help you narrow down your online college options as most online colleges offer a limited number of majors. Therefore, when conducting your online college research, you should be looking for online colleges that offer your specific program. However, if you are unsure what you want to major in, do not worry! There are plenty of online colleges that allow you to begin as an undecided major. This means you will be enrolled and taking courses at the college, but you have not declared your major yet. 

    Read more: How to choose a major

    Compare tuition and fees

    Paying for college is a huge investment, so therefore, you want to be sure you are getting your money’s worth. Therefore, look into the prices of various online colleges and determine which option is the most suitable for your financial needs. Additionally, some online colleges offer in-state and out-of-state credit hour prices. Therefore, be sure to look at local colleges and universities online schools for a more affordable tuition price. 

    Also see: How to pay for online college classes

    View the admissions requirements

    Online colleges also have specific admissions requirements in order to enroll students. Therefore, it is important to review the admissions requirements for your top online colleges in order to accurately select the best option for you. 

    Select a previously established online college

    In the age of COVID, more and more colleges are turning to online classes and programs to reach more students. However, this could mean that the online formats are a newer add on to the university. There is nothing wrong with selecting a newer online college, however, it is recommended that you select an already established online college in order to ensure your experience online is flawless. Established and experienced online colleges will typically have more resources and have worked out any kinks in educating students. 

    Thoughts from an online student

    While researching online colleges, I searched for a pre-existing, established, accredited online school that offered my major. Luckily, I was able to narrow down my options as there are a lot of good online schools out there that fit my criteria.

    Cece Gilmore | Senior at ASU, Scholarships360 Writer

    Read more: Top 10 online colleges that accept the FAFSA

    Ensure it is truly an online college

    Some colleges and universities offer hybrid degree programs which include online classes as well as in-person classes. Therefore, ensure that you are selecting a degree program that is 100% online without any commitment to attend in person for any reason. As mentioned, some online colleges may have asynchronous, synchronous or a mix of both types of classes.

    Review the online student services and support

    It is important to feel supported as an online student. Therefore, your college should have lots of resources for online students to utilize to make your college experience the best it can be. Be sure to investigate the services offered, such as access to tutors and writing/math centers to ensure that they meet your needs. 

    Thoughts from an online student

    I decided to attend ASU because it offered an established, accredited online college with endless resources and support systems for online students. I had a great experience with ASU online as the modules for learning were extremely organized and user friendly. Also, my professors were readily available and very responsive.

    Cece Gilmore | Senior at ASU, Scholarships360 Writer

    Key Takeaways

    Key Takeaways

    • Online colleges are flexible and may be more affordable options 
    • Always look at only accredited colleges to ensure a quality education and eligibility for federal financial aid
    • Choose a college or university that has an established reputation delivering online formats
    • Make sure that all classes are offered completely online if that is your preferred format
    • Check that there are solid online student services and support systems in place

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    Frequently asked questions about how to choose the best online college

    What factors should I consider when choosing an online college?

    Some important factors to consider when choosing an online college include: 
    • Accreditation 
    • Major options
    • Tuition and fees
    • Admissions requirements
    • If it is a previously established online college
    • The student services and resources offered for online students

    How do I stay motivated and engaged in an online learning environment?

    Staying motivated and engaged in an online learning environment could present its difficulties as you have to take a lot of responsibility for your own learning. Here are a few tips to help you stay motivated and engaged in an online learning environment: 
    • Set realistic goals
    • Schedule time to complete assignments
    • Reach out to your professors 
    • Take care of yourself
    • Give yourself rewards for completing coursework 

    How much does it cost to attend an online college?

      Just like traditional face-to face colleges, each online college offers a different price per credit hour. Therefore, you should research the tuition costs of your top online colleges. However, online colleges typically will cost less than their in-person equivalent. This is due to the fact that online colleges do not have to pay for the cost of facilities and other accommodations.

    How do I determine if an online college is accredited?

    Typically, online colleges share whether they are accredited on their websites. However, if you are struggling to find if your online college is accredited or not,  you can search for the college in the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

    Are online degrees viewed as credible by employers?

    Yes! If your online degree comes from an accredited school, then employers will know that is a credible degree. In fact, most online school degrees will be the same exact diploma you would receive if you attended in-person college. Therefore, there is no real need to reveal the online nature of your degree on a job application unless you want to.

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