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Should I Apply to Each of the Big Three Online Colleges?

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We live in a world where many students are forced into the situation of trying to attend college full-time while working a full-tme job. Online colleges are appealing to this demographic of students. However, students interested in the big three online universities should do their homework before applying.

Online Colleges

There have been a growing number of online colleges in the last few decades that cater to the demands of students who need to work full-time and go to college. While these programs started with a few private universities, they have expanded in recent years to include well-known public and private universities across the United States. The three largest online colleges are the University of Phoenix, Kaplan, and Strayer University.

Do Your Due Diligence

The largest online university is the University of Phoenix which offers online and campus-based programs. While it began with primarily business programs, including bachelor's degrees and MBAs, it has expanded to include programs for educators and a variety of health care related degrees. While once the pinnacle of private online colleges, it has seen its enrollment dwindle in recent years. Additionally, it has also faced issues with students being able to find gainful employment after graduation.

Kaplan University is the next largest online university, who like many others, often partners with community colleges. The partnership allows students with associate's degree from certain community colleges to finish their bachelor's degree online with discounted tuition. In particular, Kaplan has faced charges of misleading students into degree programs that turned out not to be accredited. This issue has led to students graduating with degrees that are essentially useless in the field they wish to work in.

Strayer University is the third largest online college in America. Unlike some of its countrparts, Strayer has managed to steer clear of much of the turmoil that has plagued other online programs. The main programs it offers at the bachelor's and master's degree levels are in the fields of information technology, criminal justice, and business administration. Strayer also is building partnerships with companies such as Fiat. This relationship allows employees of Fiat dealerships, and their families, to attend Strayer tuition free. Strayer also offers programs where students earn tuition credits by passing classes, leading to discounted or even free courses during their program.

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When it comes to choosing whether or not you want to apply to the big three online colleges, you want to do your homework in terms of investigating the accreditation of the specific programs you are interested in. You may want to research programs outside the big three to find the most appropriate option for your career goals.

Costs of Online Colleges

When applying to colleges, especially online colleges, you want to research the costs involved. While traditional programs typically consist of two semesters or three-quarters, online college programs are typically designed to be year-round. Therefore, the 'per term' charge could be charged four or five terms a year instead of two or three terms a year. Math like this could seriously increase the cost of attending college online versus a brick and mortar school, despite the lack of room and board fees. Online colleges can end up costing you nearly twice as much for a degree as a traditional program.

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Another cost to consider is that online programs are rarely offered exclusively online. Depending on the degree program, you may be required to travel to various locations for face-to-face hours as part of your degree program. Depending on where you live, and the locations you are expected to travel to, you could spend a great deal of money on hotels, airfare, and food each time you travel.

Finally, you need to consider how you will pay for your online degree. It is worth applying to multiple schools because depending on the school, scholarships may help cover your tuition. Otherwise, you may have to seek federal and private loans to pay for your degree. You want to be sure to weigh the cost of the degree against the increase in income once you finish. Many public universities offer online or hybrid programs that are considerably more affordable than a private online college. Therefore, if you need to attend college online be sure to shop around.

Considerations Beyond Colleges

Before you apply to an online college, you want to be sure that the degree you will earn is marketable in the career field you want to pursue. There is no worse feeling than earning a college degree but finding no employer will hire you because of the reputation of the college itself. You want to do your research and determine if the online school or program you are applying to has a solid reputation.

Many of the best programs are extensions of public universities across the United States. For example, Appalachian State is a well-known college that also offers bachelor's degrees online and comes with a solid reputation backed by the brick and mortar building. Additionally, more and more state-funded universities are offering online or hybrid education options. Be sure to compare reputations before you decide to submit your application to one of the big three online schools, or try an online program at a public university.

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Finally, talk to perspective employers at job fairs or call their human resource departments. The best advice you can get is from the places you want to work in the future - they aren't trying to make a sales pitch. If you are seriously considering applying to one of the big three online schools, ask them how many people they hire from that program. More often than not, colleges will distort their hiring statistics to recruit students. Human resources departments will be much more honest with you.

By Rachel Tustin
November 2016
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