Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Truth About Online Schools and Universities

Do you have what it takes to get a college degree?  Well, we all would like to say “yes, of course!”  Unfortunately it doesn’t really work that way.  I wrote this blog post to give you some insight into the financial options that exist and some of the things you need to have in place emotionally to make sure that you are set up for the best chance of success, should you decide to go to college online..

Truth about Online Schools
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  dcJohn
As information technology has accelerated in the past couple of decades, we have found ourselves in a position where more and more people are electing to take their college courses online.  You may have been alive when online options first started being offered by Universities around the country.  Tons of schools popped up very quickly and some are still here with us today.  The initial impression of an Online Degree was not very good.  They were often looked down upon by employers and considered to be “not as good as a real college degree.”  Luckily for you, that stigma has been broken and there are several high quality online Colleges available now to choose from. 

What type of school should I go to:  A strictly online school, a state or private University, or a Community College?

I am going to give you my experience with choosing a school.  This should save you a great deal of time, and really it’s the very best advice that I can give.  It took me almost a year to get enrolled in my first term, because I made some mistakes, and I actually wound up going through three colleges by the time I finally settled in and got busy.  

Something you have to understand about private colleges and online colleges is that they are strictly for profit.  If you qualify for financial aid, they are going to charge you tuition costs that are pretty much equal to the maximum amount of aid you will receive.  That means that if you don’t have a job that is capable of supporting all your needs while you attend classes, there will not be any money left over to help pay rent, food, or anything else.  This is why I didn’t go with a traditional online school.  They wanted every cent they could get their hot little hands on, and I wanted to attend school full time.  I was also unemployed so it really wasn’t a good option for me.  Your situation may differ from mine, but I can guarantee you that the quality of education that you will receive from a major online college is not any different from any other college.

If you pick a State school, the tuition will be slightly less.  If you choose the community college, it will be substantially less.  The problem is that they may not offer all the classes you need online (as opposed to an Online School).   The advantages include the lowest tuition prices available (in-state, Community College) and if you pick something local, you can actually go to the school.  You can meet with your teachers, peers and administrators.  You can also use the services and extracurricular activities that the school has to offer such as the library, the fitness center, computer labs, counselors, advisers, work study programs, etc…  It really was a win-win for me, and I am glad I chose this route.  

Be sure to get in touch with your local community college and ask to speak to an admissions adviser.  Ask them about their online courses and what they have to offer.  Explain to them your situation and develop a good relationship with this person.  They are the key to getting you registered, tested (if needed) and placed into your freshmen classes.

Reputation by krossbow, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  krossbow 

Internet Knowledge

This is an area that I have seen a lot of online students fail in.  The fact that you are on the computer right now reading this blog post is a good sign, but you do have to be honest with yourself about your computer skills.  Taking online courses can offer unique challenges, and if your school uses “Canvas” for its classes (chances are it does) it’s notoriously unreliable and can cause you a lot of headaches.  If the school has a good IT department, there will be a help desk to call and they can walk you through most things.  (Canvas is a platform used by many state funded schools and community colleges to allow you to attend the class).

It’s really important to have a good working knowledge of:

  • ·         The Internet and Web Browsing
  • ·         Email (and attachments)
  • ·         How to take Pictures
  • ·         How to Record Videos
  • ·         How to use YouTube
  • ·         How to use Facebook

That is a short list.  There is more as the course work carries into future terms.  I strongly recommend taking a “College Success” class, or something of that nature.  It can be named other things like “College Development”, just ask your adviser.  It will be considered an “introduction to college” course.  This is the most important class you will take in college.  Take it as your first class, and do the coursework as honestly as you can.  You’re going to learn all about yourself, and how you learn, your strengths, your weaknesses and how to turn them into strengths.
The next thing is an “introduction to college computing” and possibly a “typing” class as well.  Do these in the first term and get the ball rolling correctly.  It doesn’t matter if they are not counted towards your AA degree, if you are below average in any of these areas, you MUST do this.  Otherwise, you will be frustrated and things will go down, and documents will be lost and you will likely become stressed out.  

The object is to get set up in the best possible way.  Don’t brush these things off. If you can’t type, learn.  You look unprofessional trying to get a job if you are hunting and pecking on a computer.  The computer is almost essential to every job today, so go in there and learn it!  If you got a job working for me, and I found out that you didn’t really have computer skills (and I will know within a matter of minutes) I would have to let you go.  Don’t be scared, you have to get in there and take it by the horns, be honest with yourself, and make a well-informed decision.

The reason I stress the computing aspect so strongly is because “accidents” are going to happen.  I didn’t have one single class that ran smoothly for the whole term.  Not once.  Your professors are not going to tolerate late work, or missing assignments due to technical problems.  You are responsible for getting the work in on time even if the system is down.  I know this sounds crazy, but it is true.  I recommend doing all your classwork and submitting it a few days in advance.  I also recommend that once you have submitted your work, you take a screenshot of it and store those files on your computer, and then on a backup (the cloud works best e.g., OneDrive from Microsoft or Google Docs, because should your system go down, you can retrieve these files from any computer that has internet access).  That way if something goes wrong, you can at least show the professor that you did have the work submitted, and then you can simply pull the file from your drive and send it again.   I know it seems like overkill, but covering your tracks when dealing with quirky technology is the only way to avoid some technical error that lost your 15 page term paper.

Lastly, is the emotional aspect of all this.  Are you ready to go to school?  Having your personal life in order makes the process much easier.  I always recommend that no matter what, you should be in school if you haven’t obtained a degree yet.  It doesn’t matter what is going on in your life, you must invest this time in yourself to gain the knowledge and earning power necessary to achieve most goals.  I found a great little survey on the internet that you can take to help you in the decision-making process.  Check it out at and find out what it says about you.  Be honest with the test There are no right or wrong answers and if you try and “look better” while answering the questions, you will only be cheating yourself in the long run.

graduate by midquel, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  midquel 

My View on It

Choosing to go to school online is a huge step in your personal development.  It is easy to think that online classes are easier because of the convenience that they offer.  I can personally tell you that it’s a myth.  Online classes can be even harder because your instructors want to know for absolute certain that you are taking the time to learn the material.  Online courses normally have far more reading and writing than traditional classes on campus.  There are typically not any lectures and you will be expected to learn the material on your own, and if you don’t understand something, you better get to your Professor’s Office (during office hours), a support lab, or a tutor right away. 


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