Information compiled by the GradSchools.com team - last updated November 2010
Online graduate programs can be a fast and convenient way to get a great education, as long as you choose carefully. GradSchools.com has compiled the following ten considerations to help you navigate your choices and get you on your way to the graduate degree you've always dreamed of.
1: Accredited programs
The most important accreditation in the U.S. comes from one of six regional accrediting associations (Middle States, New England, North Central, Northwest, Southern, Western). These associations grant membership to all regionally accredited educational institutions (including Harvard, Princeton, and Yale), and acknowledge one another's accreditation.
2: Proven online success
Most online degree programs haven't been around that long and carry with them major glitches in their technology and their format. This can prove to be very frustrating to students who are looking for convenience and efficiency. Seek an online graduate program that is easy to setup, won't crash, and doesn't require much, if any technical support. Make certain, however, technical support is available 7 days a week, in case you need them.
3: Sound technical capabilities
Many online universities are attempting to incorporate sophisticated technology like Video Streaming, Whiteboard Capabilities and Video Conferencing. While this may seem like a good idea in theory, in practice these features are severely hindered by typical modem speeds of today. Seek classes that are conducted via proven technologies, such as e-mail, bulletin boards, and websites.
4: 100% online university
Many so-called "online" degree programs aren't 100% online. Instead they include instruction via less effective mediums, such as mail, telephone or videotape, or they require some on-campus attendance. Be sure your university offers 100% online programs.
5: Online faculty
Instead of recruiting the most qualified instructors from around the world, many online universities simply give local classroom teachers a computer with Internet access. Make sure instructors have received training on the facilitation of a productive online classroom.
6: Attractive financing
Earning your college degree can require a substantial investment of money. Fortunately, many low-interest financing options are made available to students, even those with high incomes. Many of these financing options are only available, however, if the university is an eligible institution that participates in the funding process. Also, be sure to ask your employer which online universities qualify for tuition reimbursement.
7: Quality customer service
Seek an online graduate school that is customer-oriented. To avoid confusion, wasted effort, and a longer time to graduation, look for a university that will assign you a personal advisor(s) who will be there to answer questions and take care of administrative details from enrollment through graduation.
8: Graduation schedule
Many universities work harder at getting you into their school than out of it. As a rule, you should be able to earn your degree in 2 or 3 years, attending classes on a part-time basis. Before you begin any program, request an outline of the curriculum and timeline for graduation.
9: Satisfied graduates
When choosing an online university, request information about the success and happiness of students and alumni. Look for quotes and results of post-graduation surveys from students and alumni. If you don't know a graduate of the university, ask the university to provide some names of graduates you can contact.
10: Small classes
Large Enrollments. As a rule of thumb, you should look for small classes. With fewer students, each student receives more of the instructor's attention. Conversely, you should look for large enrollments. A larger number of students suggests that the program is proven. Find out how many students have successfully completed the program.
For more information, read our article on how to Avoid the Dangers of Diploma Mills.