Whether you are currently working, have family obligations or simply don't feel that the confines of a traditional school schedule is for you, correspondence degree colleges offer freedom and flexibility that in-class learning institutions don't. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2007 through 2008 academic year, almost four percent of all undergraduate students -- or 769,000 total -- attended a post-secondary distance-learning program. If you're considering joining the growing number of students who choose distance learning over the classroom-based kind, understanding the basics is a must before making any educational decisions.
Unlike a traditional brick-and-mortar educational institution, a correspondence degree college doesn't use classroom-based teaching strategies. The typical teacher standing in front of the class model won't apply to a distance learning program for the obvious reason that you and the teacher aren't in the same locale. The NCES notes that correspondence, or distance, types of programs offer educational content delivery through a variety of methods, such as videoconferencing, pre-recorded videos, webcasts, CD-ROMs or the Internet.
The Real Deal
If you think that correspondence schools don't hold the same academic weight that a traditional institution does, think again. Many brick-and-mortar colleges and universities offer partial or full distance-learning options for students who can't -- or don't want to -- come into the classroom. For example, Purdue University offers online distance programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels from their extended campus, and North Carolina State offers bachelor's, master's and even doctoral studies from their distance-learning school. Although schools, such as Purdue, offer full college degrees in a distance learning format, you may find that not every major or program is available as an online or correspondence option.
While the distance-learning extension of a traditional college is part of a school that has in-class learning options, some schools only offer online -- or distance -- degrees. These schools have a physical address for the business operations offices, but don't have an actual campus that you could go to. Other distance learning schools may primarily offer online degrees, but may have a limited number of campuses across the nation. These schools allow you to complete your degree via a distance learning method whether you live near a campus or not. For example, the University of Phoenix has campus-based programs throughout the U.S., but also offers the same degree options online via distance learning.
Accreditation and Approval
Before you jump to register for a distance-learning program that claims to offer a speedy degree, make sure the school is accredited or approved by an authoritative agency. The U.S. Department of Education recommends that post-secondary students avoid diploma mills that are unaccredited and offer a degree simply for a fee. If you're in doubt, the U.S. Department of Education maintains an up-to-date list of nationally-recognized accrediting agencies. Accrediting agencies that aren't on the list are often fakes that an unaccredited institution makes up in order to fool students into a false sense of security surrounding the program or the quality of the degree. Additionally, the U.S. Department of Education notes that students should avoid schools offering quick degrees that you can complete in far less time than an accredited institution, no interaction with an actual professor or credits for "lifetime" experiences. Ask the correspondence school about their accreditation, curriculum, how often you can interact -- via a method such as web chat or email -- with the professors and what the professors' qualifications are prior to picking a program.