Learning is one of the main keys to a healthy existence. A good education will not only help you understand the world around you, but will also help you find your place in it. College is termed “higher education” for a reason. It’s an extra level of learning beyond the normal. Any knowledge you can add to your mental bank will give you a leg up in life. The higher you progress up that ladder of learning, the more you’ll improve your existence, both professionally and personally.
The current generation seems to have realized this fact.
Millennials are currently the most educated generation in American history, with more people enrolled in college or having earned a degree than any group before them.
Part of that is due to the economic climate in which they’ve come of age.
In this Recession-era economy, a college degree is one of your best options for increasing your lifetime salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with a bachelor’s degree experience about half of the unemployment rate of those with only a high school diploma. They also earn nearly $25,000 more per year on average. College degrees bring you more money and more job security.
But it’s not just about money. College teaches you critical life skills, opens your eyes to the bigger world around you, and puts you in contact with intellectuals that you might otherwise have never met. The exchange of ideas and societal benefits of a college education are valuable in and of themselves. Plus, when you do transition that knowledge and experience into a career, it’s impossible to put a price tag on the personal satisfaction that comes from doing what you love for a living.
With the rise of new technologies, earning a college degree is easier than ever. Online programs have become an increasingly-popular option for those pursuing higher education. Along with exclusively online colleges, more traditional brick-and-mortar institutions are adapting their curriculums for electronic delivery every day. Unfortunately, that large number of worthwhile programs also comes with an equally-large number of for-profit, low-quality, and even disreputable ones. Now more than ever, it’s extremely important for prospective students to always do the proper research when choosing an online degree program.
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Here Are The Best Online Colleges
Ultimately, it is up to you to determine both your needs and which school best meets them. With that in mind, here are the key areas you should research when determining the best online college for you.
The internet is full of online schools selling overpriced, near-worthless degrees. The best online colleges are accredited, so that accreditation information is the first thing you should look for at any school you’re interested in. Accreditation is a voluntary process in which an independent agency evaluates a college by measuring their curriculum and practices against a strict set of education standards. Accreditation ensures that the college is going to provide you with a quality degree. It’s the simplest – and most important – way to determine the validity of any program. Accreditation guidelines are always changing, so the process encourages a system of constant improvement at the school as well.
Accreditation is also important if you ever plan on transferring to another college or obtaining a graduate degree. Most schools don’t accept credits or degrees completed at unaccredited institutions. Accreditation is also a requirement for professional licensure in most fields, and many employers won’t recognize a degree from a school that isn’t accredited.
You have a much better chance at succeeding in school, and in your career, if you pick a degree in a subject you’re interested in. If the school you’re researching doesn’t offer that degree, you shouldn’t just settle for one that they do. Keep looking for the school that has the program you want.
You have a better chance of finding the best online college for you by starting with the schools with the widest variety of degree offerings. From there, you can use the remaining measures to narrow your choices down.
College is a serious financial investment. It’s one that will pay off in the long run, but only if you’re smart about how much you spend on it. You should do whatever you can do to minimize that investment at the onset. Therefore, the cost of higher education should be one of your main concerns when searching for the best accredited online colleges.
Start by analyzing each program’s in-state per-credit tuition cost. Ideally, you’ll choose an online program offered by a school in your state. The tuition is usually lower for state residents. Plus, some programs may require on-campus visits for orientations, workshops, etc., so you want to be close enough to attend if necessary. But, if no schools in your state offer the degree you need, you’ll have to look at colleges in neighboring states. If so, check the out-of-state tuition rates. Traditionally, they’re much higher, but there are a lot of schools that charge the same in-state rate to non-residents for online programs. Give those schools priority.
Since the goal of most degree-seekers is better employment and earnings, you should research the average salary of your desired school’s graduates. You can use PayScale Early Career and Mid-Career Salary Reports to get a rough picture of how much you can expect to earn immediately after graduation, as well as the potential for that salary to grow as you move forward in your career. The U.S. Department of Education’s College Scorecard also provides similar information.
The average college student graduates school with over $35,000 in debt. But, it doesn’t have to be that way if you choose your online school wisely. Too often, all of the extra salary money that comes from a college degree goes straight to paying the debt accrued during school. You never want your financial investment in college debt to outweigh your future salary increase.
With that in mind, you should research each online school’s debt and financial aid statistics. You can use the DOE’s NCES College Navigator to retrieve data on:
- Average debt of graduates
- Percentage of graduates with debt
- Most recent year cohort loan default rates
- Percentage of students receiving aid
- Average amount of aid provided to students
The best accredited online colleges are the ones with the greatest amount of financial aid and the lowest amount of future debt potential.
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Accreditation only assures you that your school is up to minimum standards. Some online colleges still have higher standards than others. To make sure you’re getting the best education, not just a good one, you should research certain academic statistics using the same NCES College Navigator.
Start each school’s student-to-faculty ratio. Studies show that student achievement increases as class size decreases. That’s especially true with online education. Distance learning has a tendency to feel impersonal since you aren’t in a classroom with the instructor every day. A smaller ratio increases the chances that you’ll get the personal (albeit virtual) attention you need to counteract those feelings.
You can also judge the quality of a school’s programs by researching how many students complete them, rather than failing, dropping out, or transferring. The best accredited online colleges have high retention and graduation rates.
Though the end result takes different forms for different people, the ultimate goal in achieving higher education is improving your existence through growth, opportunity, and the fulfillment of your potential. If you follow the steps outlined here, you’ll be able to find the best accredited online college for you to do just that.
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