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The following content was written in June, 2006. It was written for the web site, EarnMyDegree.com, a web site that recommends online degree programs from accredited online universities (including the University of Phoenix, Kaplan University Online, etc.). Visitors to EarnMyDegree.com can use the web site to request information on online degree programs from various universities, in a variety of subjects (i.e. business, criminal justice, etc.).
For this assignment, I was hired by World Class Strategy, a Seattle, WA-based marketing firm that maintains the EarnMyDegree.com web site. The "FAQ" page answers Frequently Asked Questions that potential online degree students might have about online colleges and degree programs.
I have chosen to present this content here in a "bare bones" text format. As of this writing, this content is still online at EarnMyDegree.com. It can be found here.
NOTE: I wrote content for a number of pages for the EarnMyDegree.com's Online Learning Center. To see additional samples of my web content for EarnMyDegree.com, go to the "Online Learning Center" Home Page. Click on any of the links under "Online Education Topics" and "Career Information" (i.e. "Benefits of Online Education," "Value of Education"), and you will be taken to pages where I wrote the content.
Will a college degree really help me in meeting my career goals?
Yes, absolutely. In today's competitive job market, employers put a higher value on candidates with college degrees. The majority of high-paying, in-demand jobs on the market require at least a Bachelors degree. On the average, college graduates have far more successful careers and earn more money over the course of their lifetime than non-college graduates. The U.S. Department of Commerce has determined that people with Bachelors degrees earn an average of 98% more income in their lifetime than non-college graduates. People with Masters degrees earn 170% more.
What kinds of degrees are offered by online universities?
Online universities offer Associates, Bachelors, and Masters degrees; a few offer PhDs in areas such as Health Services, Education, and Psychology. In addition, most online universities offer numerous Certificate programs.
The areas of study offered vary among online universities. In general, most online schools offer degrees and certificates in categories such as:
Do online college degree programs provide the same quality of education that is found in traditional college degree programs?
All evidence seems to indicate that the answer is "Yes." In terms of educational quality, most accredited online universities offer courses and degree programs that are equal to those offered by four-year universities and colleges. Studies show that for most students, distance learning is just as effective as traditional in-class learning. (In his book, The No-Significant-Difference Phenomenon, Thomas L. Russell, cites over 300 research reports that found no significant difference between in-class and distance learning.)
How can I be sure that an online university is credible, and that the degrees they offer are legitimate?
Unfortunately, some online universities are little more than "diploma mills," meaning they will send you a degree for a payment, with little or no academic studying required. These online universities are not recognized by official accrediting organizations. A degree from one of these universities is not generally accepted in the job market. Furthermore, you will do serious damage to your career and may even face criminal fraud charges if you use a "diploma mill" degree to obtain a job or promotion for which you do not have the right credentials or education.
It is important to seek out an online university that has been accredited either by a nationally-recognized accrediting agency, or by a regional institutional accrediting agency that is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The Secretary of Education publishes a list of organizations that are regarded as reliable authorities on the quality of education or training provided by institutions of higher education.
The top quality online universities have been accredited by at least one recognized national or regional accrediting agency. For example, American InterContinental University is accredited by the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, a regional institutional accrediting agency. The University of Phoenix Online is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, another regional accrediting agency.
Certain online degree programs may also be nationally or regionally accredited. For example, the B.S. and M.S. degree programs in Nursing at the University of Phoenix Online are certified by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education, a nationally-recognized accrediting agency.
To find out if an online university or college has been accredited by a nationally-recognized or regional institutional accrediting agency, you can access the U.S. Department of Education search engine at http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.asp.
Are online university courses taught by real professors?
In most online universities, faculty members are required to have Masters and/or Doctorate degrees in order to teach courses. Online universities typically put their faculty through training programs in online instruction before they begin to teach courses online. Many times, the online instructor is teaching a course that they have personally developed or assisted in developing.
Often, online university instructors are recognized experts in their field. They may be successful CEOs, CFOs, managers, supervisors, business owners, and other professionals who can bring their "real world" expertise and experience to the online classroom for the benefit of the students.
Do online universities accept transfer credits?
Most online universities will accept transfer credits from regionally and nationally accredited institutions of higher learning, if those credits will apply to your degree program of choice.
How fast can I earn an online degree?
The time needed to complete a degree varies among online universities and degree programs, but in general, an online degree can be earned much faster. Students at traditional colleges usually take four years to earn their bachelors degree, but online university students can complete the same degree in an average of 2-3 years. This is possible because, unlike students at four-year colleges, Most online students typically take only one course at a time. By taking a course online, the student can receive assignments and complete the work faster than they would be able to with a traditional in-class course.
Since online university students can complete their courses faster than traditional college students, they can take more courses and complete their degrees faster. Most traditional colleges only allow their students to take 18 credits per year. But online universities typically allow their students to take up to 27 credits per year. Also, online university students can earn their degrees even faster by transferring in credits from previous college coursework, professional training, or the College Level Examination Program (CLEP).
Do I have to earn my degree in 2-3 years?
No. The great convenience of online learning is that you can work according to your own pace and schedule. You can take as much time as you need to complete your degree. You can even take time off for work matters, family, or vacations before resuming your studies. Some students take as long as five years to complete a degree program.
Can I spend my days snowboarding, and still earn my online degree at night?
You can…but we wouldn't recommend it (unless, of course, you have a job as a snowboard instructor). Earning an online degree is not something to be taken lightly. It requires the same discipline, determination, and dedication to hard work to earn a degree online that it takes to earn a degree at a traditional four-year college.
In general, you will have to devote the same number of hours (i.e. 10-20 hours per week, including virtual class time and time needed to complete assignments) to your online education as you would if you were going to school part-time at a regular four-year college. You will have to do the same academic level of coursework. And you will have to complete your online assignments with the same academic effort, intellectual investment, and attention to detail that you would apply to college-level assignments given in a classroom setting.
Will I have to attend any classes in person?
It depends on the university and the course. Many online courses can be taken entirely from your home computer. However, some universities may have courses with minimal class attendance requirements. In such cases, you may be required to attend one or two classes at a local campus of the college. For example, you may be asked to attend an opening class in person at the beginning of the course, do the coursework online from your home, and attend a closing class in person at the end of the course.
Do I need any special equipment or software in order to pursue an online degree?
In general, all you need is a computer, an Internet connection, and a phone to consult with your instructor if necessary. If any other software is required, typically you will download it off the university's web site before you begin your online classes.
How much does it cost to earn an online degree?
The tuition and fees vary among online universities and courses of study. In general, however, earning an online degree is far less expensive than earning a traditional college degree. A four-year college degree can cost tens of thousands of dollars; an online degree, with the same quality of education, usually costs much less.
Is financial aid available?
Most of the financial aid options available to students of traditional universities are also available to students of online universities. See the Financial Aid page for more information about financial aid options.
Do I need to have financial aid in place before I apply to an online university degree program?
No, you don't. Many online universities have financial aid referral programs for incoming students, and will help you to get in touch with the resources you need to finance your continuing education.
Is a degree from an online university given the same credibility by potential employers as a degree from a four-year college?
Most employers will now consider a degree from an accredited online university with the credibility that they give to four-year college degrees. Some bias against online degrees still exists, but it is rapidly disappearing. Many companies are now encouraging their current employees to continue their education through online study, and some companies will even help to finance an employee's online education through corporate reimbursement or a third-party billing program.
Will an online degree be taken seriously if I decide to apply for an advanced degree at a traditional university?
Unfortunately, there is still some bias against online university degrees from traditional universities (mainly due to a feeling by traditional universities that online universities are "cutting in on their territory.") Some online degrees will not transfer to universities at which you may wish to pursue a graduate degree.
In theory, if you have a degree from an accredited online university (see above), it should be accepted as legitimate by any traditional university or college. In practice, however, even if a traditional college accepts your online degree as legitimate when you apply for post-graduate study, there may still be some bias against you. Traditional universities tend to favor applicants with traditional four-year college degrees over those with online degrees when making decisions about who to accept for advanced degree programs.
Your chances for acceptance in an advanced degree program at a traditional college may depend on the type of online degree you received and what other qualifications you can provide. For example, if you have a Bachelors in Marketing from an accredited online university and also have several years of employment with a marketing agency, you may have a better chance of getting into an MBA program at a traditional university than you would with the online degree alone.
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