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Just like there can be pitfalls in traditional education, there are potential pitfalls in online education that can keep you from achieving your highest level of success. Here is a list of the top 10 errors that students make when pursuing an online degree program.

1. Not selecting the program that’s right for you

Just because an online degree program exists in your chosen field doesn’t mean that it’s right for you. Would you chose each and every traditional program in your field? There are aspects of every degree program that make it more desirable and other aspects that make the program less attractive. Expect to spend the same amount of time researching online programs as you would a traditional program.

2. Not checking the school’s accreditation

This step is easy, and it’s probably the most important thing you can do for your online degree program. Colleges and universities in the US are accredited on a regional basis, and a degree program from an unaccredited university can make it difficult to find employment in your field (source). Check with the school to find out which region accredits the school and then double-check on the accrediting agency’s website.

3. Underestimating the time commitment

Online courses are not easy, and while there is often significant flexibility in scheduling, you will still need to expect to spend 15 hours per week for a three-credit course.

4. Failing to have a solid degree plan

For your online degree, you need to make a plan of which courses you will take and when. Ask if your program has academic advisors to help you make sure that you are taking all of the required courses and will graduate on time.

5. Not being certain about the real costs

In addition to tuition, you will likely need to purchase books and other materials for the class. Especially for STEM courses, these costs can be high.  

6. Not researching the technical requirements of the class

Your current computer and Internet connection may not be sufficient for the course. Before enrolling, check to see what specifications you’ll need in case the professor requires video streaming or video conferencing.

7. Not researching the instructor

There should be a page at the school’s website about the instructor listed their education and academic accomplishments. The instructor will also typically include a brief message about their professional interests. Search for comments from other students. Does the instructor return emails quickly? Give solid feedback on assignments and tests? Understanding the instructor’s teaching style can help you prepare for the class.

8. Plagiarism

The Internet has created considerable confusion about ownership of intellectual property. Also, Creative Commons is helping people release their work on their own terms. Even so, unless you see the copyright terms listed otherwise, assume that full copyright applies. Plagiarism is viewed as academic dishonesty and could result in an F on your transcript and dismissal from the program. Remember, if you found it on the Internet your instructor can find it, too.

9. Not reaching out to make friends or ask for help

Online courses can be isolating if you don’t take the time to make meaningful connections with your instructor and classmates. Also, ask the professor right away if you need help or are struggling with a concept. The faster that you resolve issues, the smoother your progress will be.

10. Not enjoying the unique and wonderful experience of online education

Like most anything in life, including traditional education, you’ll get out of it what you invest into it. Realize that you are part of a revolution in education that will affect generations to come. Share your experiences not only with your classmates but others around you.