Are you an adult learner thinking about going back to school online? If so, here are five questions to ask college admissions representatives to help you find the right school and program.
1. What resources or support services are available?
This is important to ask as the availability of online student resources can vary considerably by school and program. Ultimately, the most important online student services are the ones that you need to excel both inside and outside of the classroom.
Most colleges and universities assign new students to an academic advisor to assist with choosing a major or concentration, selecting specific coursework, and navigating the overall enrollment process. At some schools, advisors even assist prospective students as they apply for admission. Online students generally communicate with their advisor over the phone, via video conferencing, or by email.
Tutoring is another key service institutions may offer to online students. Some schools offer in-house tutoring in core subjects while others contract external providers. Some institutions even provide 24/7 access to tutoring. This is especially attractive to students who study outside of regular business hours.
Many schools also offer access to writing assistance. Writing coaches work one-on-one with students, guiding how to draft essays, perform research, and cite academic sources. Writing centers oftentimes maintain an online resource library for students with detailed guides on grammar and formatting.
Additional services for online students include library access, career services, financial aid, and technical support.
2. Do you offer tuition deferment?
This is something not a lot of people know about. Essentially, it means the school is willing to extend the deadline to pay your tuition past the standard due date if you are receiving support from your employers’ tuition assistance programs.
With most traditional employer tuition assistance programs, you are responsible for paying tuition and fees out of pocket. Upon successful completion of each course, as long as you receive a pre-established requisite grade, you are then reimbursed for eligible expenses. The deferment option allows you to postpone payment of your tuition bill until a specified time after the course ends. Usually this is enough time to receive reimbursement from your employer and pay the school.
If an institution offers deferred billing, be sure to inquire into the steps needed to participate. Is there an application form? Additionally, you will want to know the terms of the agreement. How long do you have after the course end date to provide payment to the school? Do they charge a fee to participate? If so, does your employer cover that fee?
3. Can I get credit for my professional and life experience?
The practice of awarding credit for experience is more common at the undergraduate level and serves to acknowledge learning that takes place outside of the traditional classroom. It is often referred to as alternative college credit. Here are examples of some of the most common opportunities:
- Credit by Exam - Exams administered by testing organizations such as College Level Examination Program (CLEP), DSST (formerly Dantes Standardized Subject Tests), and Excelsior College UExcel Exams
- Portfolio Assessment - Portfolios demonstrate what was learned through past experiences and can include professional work, volunteer service, and civic leadership. It needs to demonstrate how the information and skills gained equate to what is learned in a particular college class.
- Workplace Training and Professional Credentials - Courses, licenses, certifications, apprenticeships, and exams from corporations, government agencies, and professional associations can also mean credits earned for you. This can be helpful if you hold professional certifications in industries like IT, Insurance and Financial Services, Project Management, or if you have completed specialized training for your employer.
- Military Experience - Credits can be granted upon submission of Joint Services Transcripts for training and certifications earned while serving.
Colleges and universities have varying policies when it comes to the different types of credit they accept, so if you have any of the above be sure to research the school’s alternative credit policy.
4. How flexible is your schedule or format?
Online education is inherently more flexible than its traditional in-person counterpart is, but it is important to learn about whether the schools in which you are interested offer synchronous or asynchronous courses or both.
Synchronous learning happens in real-time with set login times for students. During class sessions, you may watch videos, slideshow presentations, and participate in class discussions. Asynchronous programs do not require live interaction. Instead, students access course materials online and complete assignments on their schedules as long as they meet predetermined deadlines as set by the instructor. Asynchronous tends to provide more flexibility because it allows students to schedule studying, exams, etc. around other, less flexible commitments, like work and family. On the other hand, it means less real-time support and peer interaction than a synchronous model offers.
You can also check to see if the school offers any of its programs in a competency-based format. In this type of asynchronous model, you progress through your coursework based on your ability to prove mastery of the skills and knowledge required in an area of study. Instead of working at an instructor’s pace, you can use your existing knowledge to work at your own pace. You prove mastery of competencies whenever you are ready to do so.
5. What is your pass or graduation rate?
Graduation rates can be a good indicator regarding the quality of a program or the quality of services provided by a school. The U.S. Department of Education defines graduation rates as the percentage of first-time freshmen students earning a 4-year degree who complete their program of study within 6 years of enrolling in their first class.
According to The Condition of Education, a 2019 National Center for Education Statistics report, 62% of students who began seeking bachelor’s degrees at four-year institutions completed their degrees within six years. This represents a notable improvement, as just 58 percent of students who enrolled in 2004 graduated by 2010. It is believed that the rise and prevalence of online learning contributed to this increase.
However, these figures do not always create the most accurate depiction. Several different factors are not used when calculating rates that can make an institution appear lackluster. Part-time students are excluded as are those who transfer. Since many of those enrolled online transfer or study part-time, this puts distance-learning institutions at a disadvantage. Therefore, graduation rates can play an important part in your decision-making process, but should not be the only determining factor.
I hope this information is helpful when selecting the best institution for your educational journey!