Going Back to School Online: How to Make Sure Your Degree Counts

by PRNewswire
Nonprofit online university offers guidelines for finding an online degree program

SALT LAKE CITY, Aug. 27, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- For many working adults, finishing a bachelor's or master's degree can mean new opportunities--a better job, greater earning potential, or even a new career. And increasingly, adults who must balance work and family responsibilities are choosing online options because they need the flexibility that bricks-and-mortar universities seldom provide.

With many Americans thinking of going back to school this time of year, it is important to be sure they're earning degrees that will be respected by employers and other academic institutions. Nonprofit and online Western Governors University, www.wgu.edu, offers this checklist for selecting the right college:

Choose the right degree. You want to make sure that the degree you earn will help you meet your career objectives. If you are already working in your chosen field, this should be easy. For example, if you're a teacher, you'll want to consider a master's degree in education, or if you are already a nurse, a master's in nursing is a logical choice. If your goal is moving into a better job or a different field, choose a degree that employers will find relevant. For example, a degree in business or information technology may be more useful than one in general studies or liberal arts.

Make a list of online universities. The best way to build that list is to search online. Be sure your list focuses on the degree program you're looking for. Try searches like "online IT degree" or "online MSN programs."

Ask the right questions.

Is the university accredited? The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies that the Department has determined to be reliable authorities. Accreditation is a must-have to ensure that employers and other academic institutions will respect and recognize your degree.

What is the university's background? Its ownership? Make sure you understand whether the school is part of a privately or publicly held company or a nonprofit institution. This may not be the factor that governs your choice, but it is important to know all you can about the university you select. Many for-profit institutions offer quality programs, but they may dedicate more resources to marketing and recruitment, making tuition higher.

How will you learn? Most online universities use technology to distribute traditional classroom education--classes that are led by a professor or instructor with a fixed schedule and syllabus. While the classes are usually scheduled to accommodate working adults, you'll move through the course at a set pace. You may want to consider a competency-based approach to learning, which will allow you to move at your own pace and advance when you demonstrate your mastery of subject matter.

What kind of help and support will I have? For many students, going to college online, without the interaction provided by an on- campus experience, can be a daunting prospect. Be sure to ask how you will interact with the faculty and what kind of support is available.

It's online--will I connect with other students, and if so, how? Although you are choosing to go to college online, interacting with other students can enrich your learning experience and help you feel connected. Online universities are developing a number of ways for students to connect through chat rooms, webinars, and social media-- it is important to find out what the school is doing to engage and connect with students.

How much will it cost? Tuition at online universities varies widely, from approximately the same cost as a public university to more than twice as much. Higher cost does not necessarily mean higher quality at an online college, so be sure to understand all of the costs--tuition, books, and fees--before you make your decision. Another factor in your cost consideration should be the length of time you expect to take to complete your degree. The longer it takes, the more it is likely to cost.

How will you pay for your degree program? Depending on your income, you may be eligible for a government grant, particularly a Pell grant, to help pay for your education. A federal student loan may also be an option, but take care not to borrow more than you need or incur too much debt. If you expect to use financial aid, be sure to find out whether the school you're considering is eligible.

Will my degree be respected by employers? If you want your degree to count, make sure to answer this question before you choose your school. Ask for information about alumni placements, employer surveys, and graduate rankings on national test scores.

Now, take time for one more step. Spend some time on Facebook, Twitter, blogs, etc., to learn what students and graduates have to say. It will be time well spent.

About Western Governors University

Featured on NPR's "All Things Considered," The NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams, CNN's "Schools of Thought," and in The New York Times, WGU is the only university in the U.S. offering accredited, competency-based bachelor's and master's degree programs. WGU is accredited by the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities. WGU's Teachers College is the first and only exclusively online provider of teacher education to receive accreditation for its teacher licensure programs from NCATE, the National Council for the Accreditation of Teacher Education. The WGU bachelor's and master's nursing degree programs have been accredited by the Commission for Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE), and its B.S. in Health Informatics is accredited by CAHIIM (Commission on Accreditation for Health Informatics and Information Management Education).

On June 11, 2010, WGU Indiana was created by Governor Mitch Daniels as Indiana's eighth state university. WGU Washington was established by the Washington State Legislature on April 22, 2011. On August 3, 2011, the state of Texas created WGU Texas. WGU Indiana, WGU Washington, and WGU Texas are state-endorsed and offer degree programs that are accredited through Western Governors University.

The university has earned the support of more than 20 leading corporations and foundations. They include institutions such as AT&T, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Lilly Endowment, HCA, Hewlett- Packard, Lumina Foundation, Microsoft, Oracle, SunGard Higher Education, and Zions Bank. More information is available at www.wgu.edu or by calling 866.225.5948.

Follow WGU:http://www.facebook.com/wgu.edu http:// www.linkedin.com/companies/western-governors-university http:// twitter.com/wgu http://www.youtube.com/WesternGovernorsUniv http:// news.wgu.edu/news/news.xml

Contact for media inquiries:__ Contact for enrollment information:

Joan Mitchell - Director of PR__ 866-225-5948

801-428-5463__ www.wgu.edu jmitchell@wgu.edu SOURCE Western Governors University Originally published by Western Governors University. (c) 2012 PRNewswire. Provided by ProQuest LLC. All rights Reserved.

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