What to Consider Before Enrolling in an Online Associate's Degree Program

Students who want to advance their careers and earning potential with associate's degrees, but have no time to attend a community college or vocational school can earn their degrees online. Before enrolling, students might want to do a little 'homework' first to choose the best online associate's degree program for their situation. Consider these questions below when making your decision.

How Does an Associate's Degree Benefit Me?

Even if you are unable to commit to a campus-based program, holding an associate's degree can significantly boost your job prospects for a variety of entry-level jobs. Because most associate's degree programs include general education requirements, potential employers will know that you have solid communication, problem-solving and critical thinking skills. If you have an associate's degree that provides preparation for a specific career, such as diagnostic medical sonography or legal office assisting, employers will know that you need less on-the-job training, because you already have a background in the field. An associate's degree can also boost your prospects in competitive fields like music and computer programming.

Will I Get the Same Education in an Online Program?

It depends on the school and the topic of study. Many schools include the same courses in on-site and online programs. Plus, students can interact with instructors and peers through online platforms, so they can still benefit from robust class discussions. However, there are a few subjects where on-campus coursework may be slightly different from online coursework. For instance, if you enroll in an on-campus associate's degree program in psychology, you may be required to take a laboratory science course, but in an online program, lab credits are not usually required.

Is This Program Offered by an Accredited School?

Some colleges exist entirely online - they have no campuses, and all classes are offered via the Internet. Other colleges have established brick and mortar campuses, but feature online programs for students who want to earn their degrees from home. Before enrolling in any of these online programs, students should make sure the school they've selected is accredited by an organization approved by the U.S. Department of Education.

Some approved agencies for online education include the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools, the Council on Occupational Education and the Distance Education and Training Council, Accrediting Commission.

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Who Will Be Teaching the Classes?

Students considering enrolling in an online associate's degree program can look for schools and colleges that provide a list of faculty members and their qualifications. Good online programs will utilize instructors who have worked in or earned advanced degrees or certification in the fields they are teaching. Potential students can also find out if the instructors who teach on-campus programs will also teach the courses offered online.

What Is the Job Placement Rate for Graduates of the Program?

Students will also want to be sure that they can find jobs in their selected area of study after earning their associate's degrees. Students can look for programs that offer job placement assistance and career counseling. They can also check with their schools to get data about the percentage of graduates employed in the field.

Some schools might also allow current students to connect with former students who can provide some firsthand knowledge of how easy or difficult it was for them to find a job after graduation.

Is There a Cost Difference for an Online Program?

At some schools, the tuition for online students is the same as for on-campus students. At other schools, on-campus study can cost a lot more. It is also important to note that some schools bill certain subjects, like engineering, at a different rate when courses are taken online. Depending on where you live, you should also think about transportation costs, since an online program can be completed at home. Online learning requires a working computer and internet access, and you may need to have specialized software or technological equipment for some online programs.

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