Choosing an online university

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With more and more content now available online, it is no wonder many colleges and universities are turning to online programs to better serve their students. Earning an education online can be the perfect solution for students who are unable to attend classes during traditional times or reside in remote areas. However, it is important that students do their research on an institution prior to enrolling.

Follow these tips to ensure that you are doing everything you can to make your online educational experience is a positive one.

  • Make sure the college or university is regionally accredited – Accreditation tells students and employers that an institution or a program within an institution meets specific academic standards. While there are national accrediting agencies, (ACICS, ACCSC), they typically accredit technical/career schools. You can use the U.S. Department of Education Accreditation Database to ensure the institution you enroll in is regionally accredited. For more information on accreditation, check out Best practices for transfer students.
  • Verify that your credits will transfer – If you think you may transfer your online credits to another college or university in the future, keep in mind that all schools have the right to establish their own transfer of credit policies. Do your research on the school you plan to transfer to and make sure the institution will accept all credits you earn from the online school. For more information on transfer of credits, read Best practices for transfer students.
  • Curriculum and licensure – There are many fields that require workers to hold a license, such as teaching, social work, occupational therapy, mental health counseling among others. If you plan to earn a degree in a field that requires licensure, be certain that the institution in which you enroll provides curriculum that qualifies you for that license. It is important to contact the Iowa Professional Licensing Bureau before enrolling in the program to determine if that education will qualify you for a license in your chosen profession. If you are interested in attending an online school to become a teacher, school principal or other school professional, your first step should be to contact the Iowa Board of Education Examiners.
  • Student support services – There may come a time when you need academic assistance, which can be tricky when you are not physically on campus and aren’t able to speak with people in person. Do your research to find out what level of student support the institution offers to online students. Contact the school and ask in-depth questions about their distance support services. Their responsive to your questions may be a good indication of the level of support you would receive as an online student.
  • Graduation rate – It is always a good idea to know the graduation rate of a school prior to enrolling. This rate will give you a better idea of how successful the school is at retaining its undergraduates. The College Navigator is an excellent source for finding a school’s graduation rate.
  • Default rate in the Stafford Loan Program – Be sure to check out a school’s default rate in the Stafford Loan Program. If graduates of the institution default, or fail to repay their student loans at a high rate, it could be an indicator that students are not finishing their programs, are unable to find employment in their fields or are not satisfied with their program. The national default rate in the Stafford Loan Program is 10%. If a school’s rate is significantly higher than the national average, you may wish to search for additional options to consider.

New financial regulations will also help to protect students at for-profit, nonprofit and public institutions by ensuring they have access to information about on-time graduation rates, cost of attendance and median loan debt of students in technical programs for specific occupations. Learn more here.


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