Although sitting in the comfort of your living-room wearing your comfiest sweats may seem like an ideal route to completing your college career, not every online university is equal when it comes to quality. Before investing in your online education, carefully scrutinize your potential academic institution's qualifications. Asking key questions about the school, its programs and its standards is necessary prior to starting a Web-based degree.
What's Your Accreditation Status?
If you're serious about starting a professional career, attending an accredited university isn't just a plus, it's a must. The accreditation process helps to ensure that post-secondary schools meet quality standards and criteria. You'll find multiple accreditation options, depending on the online school. While the U.S. Department of Education doesn't accredit schools, they do recognize and publish a list of accrediting agencies. Ask your school what their accreditation status is, making sure that their accreditation agency is a DOE accepted body. Online universities may hold an accreditation from a regional agency -- such as the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities -- or a specialized accreditation from an agency that oversees subject-specific fields, such as the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education.
Do Your Students Excel?
Going to an online university with a low success rate isn't likely to give you a quality education or help your post-graduation employment possibilities. Prior to deciding on a Web-based school, ask to see the university's graduation and job placement rates. You may also want to ask the school how potential employers, in the field that you are planning to study, view the university. For example, the Western Governors University states -- in a 2012 poll -- that 99 percent of employers surveyed reported that they would hire another graduate from the school.
What Programs Do You Offer?
It doesn't make sense to choose an online university simply because it offers freedom and flexibility that a brick and mortar institution might not if the school's programs don't match up with your needs. If you're unsure about what type of career path you want to follow, going with a general studies type of degree is an online option to investigate. For example, the University of Phoenix offers an online associate of arts with a concentration in general studies. On the other hand, if you know what type of degree you want to pursue, look for a school that offers that specific focus. Online schools often have Web-based degrees in fields such as health-care, criminal justice, education, technology and business.
What's the Charge?
While advancing your education can grow your career prospects and eventually make you more money, paying for school right now is a consideration to make before enrolling. Unlike a traditional school that has an actual financial aid office that you can walk into if you need help paying for college, an online university's distance-based payment pages aren't always as easy to navigate. Ask your potential university what the costs are and what payment options they feature. Some schools, like Capella University, offers scholarships and grants to subsidize your learning. Additionally, many online institutions provide help -- or at least links -- to finding and using federal financial aid for loans.
Based in Pittsburgh, Erica Loop has been writing education, child development and parenting articles since 2009. Her articles have appeared in "Pittsburgh Parent Magazine" and the website PBS Parents. She has a Master of Science in applied developmental psychology from the University of Pittsburgh's School of Education.