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How to Find the Best Online University for You (and Your Major)

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Searching for a great online college isn’t much different from doing a typical college search. There are a few peculiarities, but at the end of the day, your goals as an online student are the same as they would be if you were going to school at a campus college – to receive the best education for you and your major. Let’s take a look at how, step by step, you can go through the online college hunt process to determine which program is right for you.

Check Out College Rankings

While college rankings shouldn’t be the most important characteristic to you, it does make sense to check out what the experts, like the ones at OEDb, have to say about schools offering your major. Some schools rank only online colleges while others rank all schools together, online or campus. If possible, look for a ranking for your specific major, as this will give you more specific information. Remember, with any publication’s ranking system, it helps to know methodology (i.e., how the rankings were determined).

Make a List of Characteristics Important to You

Before you investigate any colleges beyond looking at rankings, sit down and make a list of the characteristics that are important to you in a college program. Do you want a program that offers tons of student independence? Are you interested in an online college that offers an in-person component during every semester? Is it important to you that their is financial aid available? As you think about what is most important to you, start to rank these characteristics. What do you need in a college program versus what do you want?

Go for Virtual Tours

Just because you aren’t flying around the country to visit campuses doesn’t mean that you can’t “tour” a college to get a feel for the program you’d be attending. Most virtual schools offer tours that include chatting with professors or staff members, attending an online class as a guest, and checking out the systems the school uses to submit work. Tour as many schools as possible and ask a lot of questions. If possible, make sure the tour is specific to your major, and if possible, talk to the head of your potential future department to get a feel for what the program is like. At the end of each tour, remember to get a phone number and name for the person you should contact if you need more information. You may think of questions later as you tour other schools.

Talk to Current or Past Students

Often, the most honest reviews of a college come from students, either current or past, who have studied there. If the college doesn’t provide contact information, social media is a great way to find students and ask for their opinion. Check out alumni groups on Facebook, pose your questions on Twitter, and connect with alumni on LinkedIn. Talking to someone who’s been in your shoes can really help to make up your mind.

Check Accreditation

If it seems to be too good to be true, it probably is. Any online college that is offering a bachelor’s degree in three months or seems to have lots of perks but no real information about your educational program is likely a scam – and you don’t want to lose your money just because something sounds good! Check with national or regional accrediting agencies to see if the school is listed, and if you’re going into a specific field (typically, one that requires a license to work, like nursing) check with major-specific organizations that accredit schools. Accreditation is extremely important.

Apply to Several

Believe it or not, the application process is part of deciding process. You don’t have to be sure you want to go to a school in order to apply. Many colleges offer vouchers to waive your application fee if you took a virtual tour, but even if they don’t, the money is well spent to apply to at least three schools. Once you apply, you’ll receive additional information about the schools if you are accepted, including information about cost, which is a big factor for most students. If your number one school doesn’t offer financial aid but your number two school offers a nearly free tuition, the latter might be the better option! In any case, apply to a number of schools before deciding which school to attend. Although many online colleges accept nearly 100% of the students who apply, you have time to make a decision before you have to respond to any letter of acceptance.

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