Skip navigation

Step by Step Guide to Choosing an Online University

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 15:57pm | By: Tara Burcham

Making plans is a part of everyday life. These plans may include taking a trip, deep cleaning the house, or deciding to get outdoors for some exercise. For some people, these plans include getting an online degree.

Jobs, long commutes, and family obligations can seem like an obstacle to higher education. Online education, however, makes it possible to achieve academic goals even with busy schedules and without a university nearby. With all the options available today for earning degrees and credentials online, how do you find the best university for you?

A common question is whether a university with online programs is different from an online-only university? The answer is definitively yes. Many well-established universities that offer traditional, face-to-face degrees on campus now also offer online degrees. These universities often have known reputations, and students can visit the campuses if they choose. On the other hand, online-only universities do not have traditional campuses and choose to offer online-only educational programs. These online-only universities have no physical campus and only are present online.

A key component to selecting an online university is learning about the faculty who teach the online classes. Deciding to pursue a degree is a big commitment, and being informed about the qualifications and experience of the faculty is important. Asking questions about the credentials of faculty teaching online and whether those faculty also teach face-to-face can help students have insight into the training and emphasis placed on online delivery.

At The University of Southern Mississippi, for example, both on campus and online degrees are offered, and the same high-quality faculty teach in both environments.

According to Dr. Tom Hutchinson, director of the Office of Online Learning at The University of Southern Mississippi, understanding differences among universities and their faculty profiles is important for students doing research on their college options. “Choosing between an online-only university and a university that offers traditional as well as online degrees can make a big difference in the quality of the education students receive,” says Hutchinson. “The key for students is to read the fine print. This includes confirming whether or not the university is accredited.”

Hutchinson knows about online universities; Southern Miss has over 45 fully online programs and over 1,800 online students from all 50 states. Hutchinson says students searching for an online university should be selective. “Students are seeking an online degree that improves their lives. This means finding a university that aspires to offer quality and not just quantity of online programs,” says Hutchinson.

Making the decision to get an online degree is a big one. Deciding which ones are the best online schools can be overwhelming, so use this step-by-step guide to help.

Step 1: Accreditation is the key. No one wants to work hard and earn a degree, only to have it undervalued. When choosing an online university, confirm your university is accredited by a regional accrediting body. Many degree programs are also accredited, and if you are exploring a program such as the MBA where accreditation is the norm, ask, verify, and then confirm that your online program is accredited as well.

Step 2: A good way to verify the quality of an institution is transferability. Accredited institution's courses are typically recognized and accepted by other institutions. Make a call to a second university and see if they accept courses from the online university you are considering. Sometimes students start a degree and are unable to finish. Find out now if the credits earned will transfer to another university.

Step 3: Think about the next step: advanced degrees. Right now your plans are to complete one degree. But what about the future? Will this degree qualify for admission to an advanced degree program? The best online colleges offer degrees that are applicable to a relevant advanced program. Think about the future now by contacting a graduate program to verify that the undergraduate degree will qualify for admission to the graduate program that dreams are made of.

Step 4: Ask about the professors. Students can only learn as much as they are taught. That means the professor is the key to your education. Ask the online university who is teaching. Are they full-time faculty members or adjunct faculty? explains the difference between the two. Some institutions use a high number of instructors who do not work for the institution as full time employees, while quality online universities have a higher percentage of full-time faculty members.

Step 5: Do a deep dive into support resources provided for online students. Look at the website and ask questions. Do they offer online students help with writing papers? Do they have a student success center aimed at helping students succeed? Do they offer 24/7 support for online classes? Find out the answers to these questions before committing to an online university.

Hutchinson says following these five steps is a great place to start in finding an online university. “Students are investing their time and money into this institution. They should receive a quality education as well as services and resources for online students. At Southern Miss, we offer online access to resources such as the Writing Center and Career Services tools,” said Hutchinson. “The university you select should offer these types of services to you.”

Choosing an online university is an exciting time. Make the most of this decision by using these five tips and understanding the strengths of the institution you choose.

Interested in learning more? Check out relevant college and university topics such as getting back in study mode, 5 ways to use your GI bill and how 5 classes can increase your salary.