Your first important college decision

Is Online College for You?

by Lee Doppelt

You tumble out of bed at noon and sit in your pajamas, sipping your favorite herbal tea while "playing" at your computer as you work toward an online college degree. You don't have to negotiate highway traffic or nasty weather. You don't have to search for a nearby parking spot or haul heavy textbooks and your computer around campus. There are no scheduling conflicts with your part-time job or child care. Is this too good to be true? Nope. Read on.

It makes sense to pursue a college degree online.

Distance learning has been around longer than you think. Online college is just one type of distance learning that's become increasingly popular in the past decade or so. You have probably seen TV ads for University of Phoenix. Founded in 1976, it's a private, accredited university, offering various options for earning college degrees at all levels, even a doctorate. According to, annual tuition at University of Phoenix in 2017 was approximately $10,554 versus tuition of about $30,214 for the same year at the University of Illinois. And that doesn't include college fees, housing, and miscellaneous college-related expenses.

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These large universities actively promote their global campus. Colleges can offer these classes to a greater number of students, increasing their revenue, which makes them more solid financially. Each year, an increasing number of colleges and universities nationwide are offering online courses and degrees because it's cost effective for them.

Because online classes offer students the flexibility of learning wherever they live and on their own schedule, the students benefit as well. Tuition and fees are sometimes lower for online versus classroom courses, not to mention the savings on commuting and campus housing. This is truly a win-win idea. Community colleges like Parkland College charge the same fee per credit hour to their residents ($245 per credit hour), but for those out of the district, online classes are cheaper than those in a classroom.

Is Online College for You?

College degrees at all levels can be earned online.

Whether you are pursuing a two-year degree from a community college or technical school or a Bachelor's, Master's, or even a PhD from a private or public university, there is probably a program to meet your needs. A continuum of options is available to educate yourself via your home computer.

Some courses are considered hybrids because they have a classroom component to them, but other classes are completely computer-based. Some degrees can be pursued without ever setting foot on a college campus; these are typically programs that require less hands-on training and are more conducive to online learning. However, degrees in music performance, physical education, or teaching, for example, require brick-and-mortar settings for performance, internships, or student teaching.

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Think carefully before embarking on the online college experience.

Before pursuing some or all of your college education online, you must have access to a computer with a compatible web browser and possess adequate technology and internet skill and literacy. You must be an organized, disciplined self-starter. Find out which courses and which degrees can be pursued online. If you don't require the social life inherent on campus or face-to-face interaction with professors and classmates, online education may be perfect for you.

Be sure to read the fine print on eligibility for your specific situation and expect to work at least as hard as you would in a traditional classroom setting. Online college is definitely not for lazy people.

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Think accreditation.

Colleges and universities choose to be accredited; accreditation is not a requirement. In the United States, there are regional agencies that govern and regulate the college accreditation process, as part of the Department of Education.

There are many reasons to choose an accredited college or university. You are likely to get a better education. Your degree will have more credibility and clout in the job market, and financial aid, loans, grants and scholarships are available to those enrolled only in accredited programs. Make sure your school of choice is accredited; be sure to thoroughly investigate.

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"Accreditation mills" are counterfeit accrediting agencies. Also, beware of "diploma mills." These sell bogus "diplomas" that can be purchased without doing any of the work that goes into earning a college degree. Again, do your research before enrolling in any of these programs or colleges. Time and money are precious, so don't waste either of them.

Online college education may be the right choice for you. Be sure you are enrolled in an accredited school and an accredited program. You can look online to see if the US Department of Education has accredited your college of choice.

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