What to Consider Before Starting an Online Grad Program

Students thinking of enrolling in online graduate degree programs can find a wide variety of options. Before enrolling in one of these programs, students should do some homework on available programs to make sure they choose the right program for them.

Prospective students should consider academic factors, scheduling issues and institutional quality when considering online graduate programs.

Academic Considerations

Online graduate degree programs are available at both the master's and doctoral levels. Each student's career goals will determine whether a master's or a doctorate will be the best choice for them. Some of the fields in which online master's degree programs are offered include the following:

  • Business
  • Education
  • Computer information technology
  • Engineering
  • Criminal justice

Doctoral degree programs that are offered online can prepare students for careers in academia or research. In addition, some doctoral programs can lead to non-academic careers in areas like counseling, or upper-level administration roles in business, healthcare or education.

Scheduling Considerations

There are a few factors related to scheduling that prospective students should also think about.

Time Commitment

Online programs may be available in full-time or part-time formats. Some programs allow students to work at their own pace, while others require students to adhere to the school's regular term schedule. There are also schools that require students to attend scheduled lectures, while others allow students to view recorded lectures on their own time. Programs may also vary considerably in length; master's degree programs can take as little as one year to complete, while doctoral programs can take five or more years.

Residency Requirements

While most degrees can be earned entirely online, some graduate programs do require students to spend a certain amount of time on campus. Depending on the program, this time commitment can range from a few days every academic year to a few weeks or even months. Although on-campus classes may be scheduled over the summer, or on weekends, students will need to be sure they can commit to the time, travel, and expense involved in going to campus.

Institutional Quality Considerations

More colleges and universities are offering classes online, and it is important for students to verify that the institutions are reputable and that the degrees are valid


The simplest way determine school quality is to verify that the school is accredited by an agency approved by the U.S. Department of Education. Prospective students can find accreditation information on the school's website, or through the admissions office.


Another way to evaluate institutional quality is to consider faculty qualifications. Reputable institutions will likely provide a list of faculty members and their qualifications on their websites. In addition to reviewing the faculty's qualifications, students will also want to ask the following questions:

  • Are the instructional members of faculty full professors, or associate professors?
  • Have the professors taught at other colleges or universities?
  • Are there faculty members with whom the student shares research interests within the field?

Students can also check to determine if the instructors who teach online courses are the same as those teaching courses on campus. Even if the school employs a separate faculty for online courses, these instructors should still have teaching experience and advanced degrees in their field of study.

When deciding whether to enroll in an online graduate program, it is important for students to make sure the program corresponds with their academic goals and scheduling needs. They should also make sure that the program is legitimate.

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