About Online Colleges
While most post-secondary institutions in the US are proud of being part of a long historical tradition, online colleges are proud of just the opposite. Distance and correspondence courses have been around for a long time, but online or e-learning has only developed in the last 20 years or so and continues to grow. A recent national conference on educational technology predicted that by 2019, more than half of all post-secondary courses will be offered online. Online colleges can be community or career colleges offering vocational training designed to get students ready for direct-entry into employment, or universities offering everything from professional certificates to doctorate degrees&all with the click of a mouse and a lot of regular university-style hard work. So what does this relatively new and growing tradition of online study have to offer you, and why should you consider it as well as the oh-so-hyped campus-based universities and colleges? Read on.
There are many ways to study online. Some options include stand-alone online schools, online divisions of major campus-based universities or colleges, specialty schools in fields such as business, education, nursing, criminal justice, legal studies, art or health care. They can be big private companies running different programs in the US and Canada, individual private career colleges, divisions of public state universities, divisions of private campus-based universities, faith-affiliated institutions. Yes, there are Christian and Catholic online colleges! Accredited online universities and colleges provide degree programs, including bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees as well as shorter academic certificates and diplomas. These programs are designed to be equivalent to the credentials offered at traditional campus-based colleges in everything except the requirements of time and place. Online colleges also offer individual courses for those looking to fill gaps in their education, and bachelor's completion for those with an associate's degree is also one of the main programs offered at online colleges.
How does it all work? First you have to find the right program and school for you: there's a lot of variety in the kind of courses and the way they are provided. Subject areas at the undergraduate level include education, human services, business administration, management, information technology, psychology, religious studies, security, criminal justice, fine and applied arts, design, fashion, liberal arts, real estate studies, hospitality management, sports and health sciences, and more. Some of the possible degrees you can pursue are Associate of Arts (AA), Associate of Applied Science (AAS), Associate of Science (AS), Associate of Occupational Studies (AOS), Bachelor of Science (BS), Bachelor of Arts (BA), Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA), Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA). You can also take shorter certificates and diploma programs (as little as 9 months) in a wide variety of the above fields of study. Specialization options are also available within a degree: for example, you can earn an Associate of Science in accounting, business administration, general studies, or paralegal studies. Or, in the Bachelor of Science in Accounting, you can pursue a concentration in finance, international business, project management, human resources management, marketing, etc. In terms of time, the pace may be largely up to you or set more rigidly by the school.
How do you actually learn? Online divisions at traditional universities or colleges may be fully online or available in a "blended" format. Blended degrees require students to spend some part of their degree time on campus. Nursing degrees are typically offered in this way. Start dates also vary: at some institutions courses start monthly, while others follow a traditional fall/ winter term schedule. Content may be delivered via virtual classroom courses, lectures, streaming videos, podcasts, discussion boards, chat rooms, group projects, students buying or downloading materials and other methods. Virtual classrooms offer students the convenience of working remotely, but are fully web-based and not simply an email exchange. Therefore, the interactive learning approach encourages-even demands--participation and virtual mingling and collaboration with peers. Methodologies are constantly evolving with an institution's technology, creativity and innovation.
Programs at accredited online colleges are creative, demanding and relevant to current industry demands. They are designed by industry-experienced faculty in conjunction with industry leaders and delivered by industry-experienced, professionally credentialed faculty: it's not just anybody on the other side of the computer telling you what to do! Credentials earned online can be terminal and used to go on to the job market, or can be used for university transfer or lead into graduate study (either online or on-campus). Since online colleges and divisions are still relatively new, be sure to check into an institution's articulation agreements specifying exactly how transfer credit will be accepted from one institution to another.
A detailed study by the US Department of Education for the 2000-2001 academic year showed 2,876,000 enrollments in college-level for-credit distance education courses. That's a lot of students! And even though you likely won't meet any of them, it's interesting to know who you'll be learning with.
Statistics show that online or e-learners encompass a diverse group of students at different stages in their lives. This group includes high school graduates who haven't been fully served through traditional means; working adults without the time or access to a campus who want to take degree or training programs to open new career doors; high school grads who already have jobs but don't want to give them up to study; parents who have children and plan on returning to the workplace in the near future; students choosing to earn some of their college credits online before transferring into a bachelor's program; students at traditional colleges or universities who want to take summer classes while still going home; students who face obstacles to completing a campus-based degree due to medical conditions. The average age of online learners is therefore somewhat higher (generally around 32) than for students in undergrad programs at traditional colleges and universities. But this makes for a dynamic, rich learning environment in ways you might not expect.
What's so unique about online college other than you not having to attend class? For one thing, the virtual classroom allows you to work with peers from across the nation and around the world in a collaborative learning environment. How cool is that! It also means you don't have to worry that a course you sign up for will close due to low enrollment. The more flexible format is more convenient for everyone, and in many cases you complete your degree in as much or as little time as you have available. Many offer accelerated programs as well, and most online degree programs don't require students to take elective classes unless required by their major. Therefore you study is focused and relevant to what you want to do in your career.
Since many online colleges are private, their reputation is only as good as their graduates. Career placement, an always-available online library, 24/7 technical support, instructors who are accessible by phone, e-mail or online chats are all central to the online college mission of providing a good education that gets you where you want to be&affordably. Students studying online usually don't have to worry about the cost of textbooks because most programs enable them to download all materials needed for their classes including lectures, assignments, additional notes, and other materials. The amount of stdent debt for students at online colleges is usually less than for students at traditional colleges, and financial aid and scholarships are still available. Plus, you also save on the cost of commuting and can feel good about not contributing to the energy crisis!
So how will you decide? First you have to decide what you're interested in--in terms of both study and pace--then you have to find an online institution that offers it. Other factors such as scholarships, tuition costs, affiliation with other colleges and universities and possibly church affiliation may also be factors. Schools in the USA's database of online colleges in the US can help get you started. Once you've spotted a school that seems to suit your interest, check out their website. The site will tell you what they offer and who to call or contact for more information. Then call--don't be shy! Check out the "Choosing an Online College or University" section here on Schools in the USA for more ideas on how to narrow down your choices. This is your education, so take the time to explore to help you get on the right path for your future!
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