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What Do You Look for in a Good Online College?

Want to choose the "best" online college? Try this simple exercise. Go to Google.com or Yahoo.com and type in 'online colleges'. Chances are that you'll come up with more than 5,000,000 pages! Next, how ever does one filter through all those institutions that claim to be the best?

To find out which colleges are the best, it's a great idea to check the following:

Accreditation
Many institutions that claim to offer great degrees are either not accredited or have been accredited by fake agencies. Some will claim to be licensed while others will try to convince you that accreditation is not a crucial issue. Don't believe them.

Accreditation (not 'state licensure') is essential; what's more, it's important that you ensure the college has been accredited by a nationally or regionally recognized accrediting agency.

For a list of approved accrediting agencies and schools, check out the U.S. Department of Education website. You may also want to check out resources like your local Better Business Bureau, Council on Higher Education Accreditation, List of Nationally Recognized Accrediting Agencies and the Directory of Higher Education Officials.

Accreditation is all-important because it assures your potential employer that your education has met a set of established standards. It also allows you to transfer your credits to other colleges and universities.

Class size
As in a traditional college, class size is an indication of what you can expect from the course. When considering class size it's essential to understand that both small and large classes each have their own advantages.

While a large class size is an indication of the success and reputation of the program, a smaller class size will ensure that your instructor can invest more time in you. Information on the class size can usually be found on the college's website.

Faculty
Check out the credentials of the faculty handling the course. Find out what degrees they hold, from which institution they've graduated and what experience they have in the industry. You may also want to find out how long they've been teaching and if they have prior experience in handling online courses.

If a few faculty members are from the same college you're considering, it just goes to show that the college hires their alumni, not a good sign!  Also visit What Reputable Online Schools Rate Well With Students? for additional resources to help decide what college or online university may be right for you.

Accessibility
Accessibility is a very important issue. Some students are comfortable with keeping in touch with tutors or instructors over email, but others may be more comfortable over the phone. You may want to choose a college that fits your personal preference.
 
A college that can be contacted over the phone is generally more trustworthy than one that provides no phone numbers. You may also want to check if the college offers you a 24/7 customer service or technical support program. Some colleges also assign personal advisors or mentors who can support you right through graduation.

Reputation
Find out about the online college's reputation. Current and prospective employers, colleagues or relatives who've completed online programs are excellent resources to provide you with insight on the college. You may also want to research blogs, social networking sites and online messaging centers to get a peek of what the alumni and current students have to say. You could also ask the college for referrals. A valuable online resource is the peer web citation from the Online Education Database.

Graduation Rate
A good graduation rate suggests that the level of student contentment and success is pretty high. Check out the success rate of the alumni - which firms they're working with and how many of them are currently in a field that is related to the degree they completed.

Check this link to find out which colleges are ranked as having the best graduation rates. The Education Trust's College Results Online and the Federal Graduation Rates Data Archive can also provide you with valuable insight.

History
If the online college has been around for a while, chances are that it is more credible. An 'old' school needn't necessarily be good; however, it's likely that they are doing a few things right. Also find out how long the program you're considering has been in place and where the graduates have found placement.

It's also a great idea to thoroughly investigate the institution's financial history and current standing. Find out from trade publications and other websites if the college has been mired in any controversial issues.

Curriculum
Find out when the curriculum was last revised and if the course work and materials are relevant to the current industry. You may also want to find out if the suggested time frame is realistic and how many students have been able to successfully complete the course within the stipulated time.

Before setting out in pursuit of the best online college, remember that it is often a matter of what suits you best. And before you set about comparing colleges, make sure that you're very clear about what you really want.


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