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How Online Colleges Work... and Why They're Good for You

By Peterson's Staff updated on Tuesday, April 08, 2014

You chat with friends online. You study online. You game online. Could you actually go to school online?

Not so long ago, images of old brick buildings dominated the idea of a college campus. That's now changing, and fast. As schools take advantage of ever-increasing technology, the classroom is becoming a much larger domain — one that extends well beyond a single building, letting more and more students take advantage of online learning opportunities.

Now, students can find classrooms in their laptop computers. Flip open your phone, and you can ask your professors a question about a textbook. Click a button and you're watching a full lecture, taped and recorded for your convenience. This is the amazing new world of online college degree programs.

The online degree program advantage

Accredited online degree programs are just as legitimate as the ones you'd attend at any college. (Accreditation is essential, especially if you plan to transfer credits later.) You'll have professors, there will be other students, and there will definitely be assignments.

As for earning degrees from online education programs, students can go for professional certifications, associate's degrees, or bachelor's degrees. (Master's programs and a limited number of doctoral programs are also offered.)

The big advantage of online degree programs is flexibility. Let's say you have to work full time while you go to school. Or perhaps you're eyeing a school 500 miles away, but can't move. An online degree program would let you pursue your goals while overcoming obstacles that sometimes keep students from being able to enroll.

How online degree programs work

Online degree programs include print-, audio-, and video-based courses, but at this point, are mostly online. Some online classes require you to "attend" at specific times. Others are less structured, allowing you to go whenever — but slackers beware! To make the grade, you'll have to do the work.

As you might expect, e-mail is huge when it comes to chatting with professors. Many set up virtual office hours, when you can ask questions or seek help. A well-run online degree program will never leave you without the chance for one-on-one time, if you need it.

Selecting an online degree program from many distance learning colleges

The Internet is the perfect place to start looking into online degree program. Online searches allow you to sort through thousands of options by the criteria that matter most to you. School sites also offer great information about their online education options.

You'll quickly find that you have a lot of choices in online degree programs — even more than normal, since geography's not a factor. While looking for the right fit, keep the following in mind:

  • Consider what financial aid for online college will be available
  • Assess the quality of the online degree program as a whole
  • Make sure you have the required equipment
  • Avoid "diploma mills"; their degrees aren't worth anything

Enjoy your search!

See Schools that Offer Distance Learning
About the Author

Peterson's has more than 40 years of experience in higher education, and the expert staff members here are all ready to leverage their considerable knowledge and experience to help you succeed on your educational journey. We have the information, the know-how, and the tools -- now all we need is you!

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