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Quick Guide to Online Schools
Before exploring online schools, every potential student should read about and understand the basics of remote learning, financial aid, quality control and the institutions themselves. Let’s take a closer look at four critical elements that serve as the starting points for an online school decision.
1 Types of Online Schools
A number of different types of schools provide online learning options to students, earning them unofficial classification as an “online school”. Each has a variety of benefits and possible drawbacks of which students and parents should be aware.
Traditional colleges and universities
Both public and private higher education institutions have moved relatively quickly toward a more nimble learning mode, which includes some or all of their courses and materails delivered online. Many of these online colleges bring the same quality of education, resources and faculty experience to the virtual classroom. However, as with their campus-based programs, admission requirements could hinder some students from acceptance and enrollment.
Primarily for-profit online schools
Many colleges like DeVry University have long-standing traditions when it comes to online education. They crafted and developed online curricula as well as the tools and technology to deliver them. Unlike their traditional counterparts, barrier to entry can be much looser, opening up post-secondary educational opportunities to a wider segment of the population. Students should always beware of the cost, and make sure the institution has the proper accreditation to ensure quality standards and employer acceptance of their degree.
Community and junior colleges
Two-year colleges offer a unique value that many other online schools don’t: a combination of affordability, course quantity and academic integrity. The cost of online programs at community and junior colleges tend to be much lower than 4-year schools, yet their focus on diplomas, certificates and associate degrees limits how far a student can go without transferring.
2 Financial Aid & Scholarships
Students at online schools looking for financial aid have a variety of options. It’s important to note, however, that qualification for aid, grants or scholarships require enrollment at an institution that’s accredited. Let’s go a bit deeper on the three main types of aid for students today. And for a more in-depth and expert-driven look at paying for college, read our full guide to financial aid for online schools.
Student loans are money borrowed by a student from a lender that must be paid back, with interest, according to the terms of the loan contract. Student loans come from three primary sources: the Federal government, state governments and private lenders.
Grants are similar to loans except a student does not have to pay the money back. Grants can be obtained from many sources, including state governments and directly from colleges and universities. The Federal Pell Grant program is among the most widely known; Pell Grants provide funds primarily to undergraduate students on a by-need basis.
Scholarships tend to be merit-based or dependent on criteria such as membership in a sponsoring organization or ethnic or minority group. Colleges, corporations and non-profits offer a majority of scholarships to students. The money does not need to be paid back.
3 Online Learning Modes
Not all online schools are the same, and neither are their students. Some students prefer more flexible learning environments, others want a program that helps them earn a degree and transition to a career as quickly as possible. These two primary delivery modes at online schools come with unique benefits for students.
Fully-online vs. hybrid
Hybrid (or blended) courses are those that combine online work with some level of in-person class or lab participation. The balance between online and on-site participation requirements can vary substantially from class to class depending on the nature of the course materials covered.
Synchronous vs. asynchronous
Synchronous courses require the instructors and students to be online at the same time for lectures, presentations and/or discussions. With asynchronous courses, instructors provide any or all of course materials for access by students at any time of their convenience. Time limits for completion of a particular session’s work may be required.
Every degree-granting institution in the United States must hold some sort of accreditation. The key is understanding which accreditation statuses matter the most and why. Let’s examine three of today’s most popular accreditation statuses.
The gold standard, regional accreditation denotes thorough vetting of a college and its programs by an established and independent third party. Each regional body visits and investigates the institutions within its purview for academic standards, faculty experience, resource availability and overall guiding principles.
Schools with national accreditation often concentrate on less academic disciplines, including vocational, trade and career-focuses programs and courses. This often means a vetting process with less emphasis on core academics (liberal arts) and more on the ability to train students in tactile skills.
Programmatic or subject accreditation
Programmatic accreditation is reserved for degree programs that focus on a specific subject. For example, quality business schools and their programs have earned accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB).
Importance of Accreditation
The sheer volume of schools with online programs makes it easier for students to find distance-learning opportunities. However, it also makes it easier to find poor ones. When vetting online schools, selecting one with the right accreditation is absolutely critical. Learn how this educational stamp-of-approval impacts credit transfers, degree acceptance and, most importantly, employability.