Guest blogger: Radek M. Gadek
In today’s academic system, online degrees have become a blessing for many students who choose to complete their college degree online. You may have heard of working moms jumping on the Internet to get their education, or military and law enforcement personnel that are able to finally finish college, but increasingly more and more young college students start college online – and yes, many are right out of high school.
However, the scrutiny behind online degrees continues to plaque many students who go to, went to, or are just on a verge of going to an online college or university. The relentless norms of society pressure the online education system into this “gray area” where it isn’t really wrong that you went to college online, but it isn’t good either.
First, let’s get some things straight:
- Online degrees are no better or worse than brick-and-mortar degrees are.
- Online degrees aren’t easier or harder – you can’t just group them that way.
- For the most part, it takes a self-reliant person to complete an online degree.
- Your online degree is the same as the on-campus degree – it doesn’t say on the diploma that you have an online degree from an online school.
- Like in any pragmatic scenario, not all degrees can be developed into a distance education model – at least not yet – think of medicine, for example.
Social Barriers and Social Interaction
The social barriers that were set for incoming, current and graduating online students rose higher and higher as the concept of distance education hit the main stream culture. The negative perceptions can often stop even the most ambitious learner from utilizing this mode of education. However, things are changing for the better now.
Life is hard enough as it is, so don’t fret. Majority of the employers, and I mean like an enormously large majority, will not even question or know how you obtained your degree. What they can request is a copy of your diploma, and in some cases, transcripts with your GPA. You won’t have to worry about that since your diploma and transcript will look identical to the one campus grads obtain.
As always, the school name can make or break chances of employment. This is specifically true when applying for high-caliber or specialty positions. If you’re planning on a “rewarding” career – in all sense of the word – then it’s recommend that you pick schools that have prominence and/or prominence in the field of study.
Fun Tip: Let’s say that you would like to get a Business degree that can help you obtain a rewarding career, but you want to do it online, and at a great school. US News and World Report comes out with a list of “Best Colleges” annually. These are brick & mortar colleges, but when you browse around and find a great school you like, go to the school’s website and search for academic degrees online. Another great way to do that is to use Google search by typing the following: “School Name Online” (without quotes).
When it comes to online learning it’s not necessarily easier or harder than on campus. It’s different, and depending on the individual it can be a walk in the park or a virtual pit of misery – for most people it is usually something in between. A recommended path is to try some online courses at your local community college to see how well they suit you before you embark on a full-fledged online regiment.
The lack of social interaction is a negative factor, but it sure is helpful when you don’t have the many distractions of campus life. Relationships with people, especially your peers and professors, are vital in college and can equate to better chances of being accepted into graduate school. Things like academic advice and letters of recommendation come in very handy when looking for your next academic challenge or employment opportunities. At this time, it is much harder to achieve the type of bond with your peers and professors when studying online.
The Importance of Accreditation
One of the biggest reasons online degrees seem to get a bad wrap is because of accreditation issues. In the not-so-distant past some online schools participated in unethical practices when it came to accreditation. They claimed to be properly accredited and even told students that their accreditation was the best, when in fact, they had no valid accreditation altogether. Hence, the term: “Diploma Mill” was born – you’ve probably heard that being thrown around once or twice. The media got a whiff of that and ran with it, creating a giant storm that held a dark cloud over the concept of distance learning.
The reality is that there are many great colleges and universities, even schools like Stanford University, that offer degree programs online. These great schools have regional accreditation – the education standard that all students should start with. There is also national accreditation, but I strongly recommend going to the regionally accredited institution. I’ll tell you why in the next section.
One of the biggest hurdles for individuals who would like to continue their college education is making sure that their credits transfer or their diploma will be recognized by other academic institutions. This scenario applies to those who:
- completed some college courses and want to transfer to another college or university without having to repeat these courses
- completed an Associate’s degree and would like to obtain a Bachelor’s
- completed a Bachelor’s degree program and are applying to grad school (Master’s and PhD are common grad school levels)
It’s virtually impossible to accomplish that when the school is not properly accredited at all. However, even when it is properly accredited, it is only so far national accreditation will take you. The differences between regional and national accreditation are enormous and you should consider the following scenarios when applying to any degree program (online or on-campus):
- No accreditation equals wasted time and money, no opportunity to transfer credit, and definitely zero percent chance of getting into a half decent school with either national or regional accreditation. You can also be demoted or even fired from your job if your employer was to find out your degree is worthless.
- If you completed some college courses at a regionally accredited college or university you should have no problem transferring acceptable credits to the new school. This new school can be regionally or nationally accredited.
- If you completed some college courses at a nationally accredited college or university, you may have no problems transferring your credits to nationally accredited schools, but it is extremely hard to transfer any credits to a regionally accredited institution, like Stanford.
- If you completed your entire degree – Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or a Master’s – at a nationally accredited school you should have no problem going to the next level at a nationally accredited college or university. However, if you want apply to a school with regional accreditation, you may have difficulties having your degree considered.
Remember, this applies to online and campus based education.
Where You Go To College Matters, But How You Do It Is Truly Not That Important
We all know that American society has roots in only the best values. It is understandable that schools like Stanford University, Cornell University, and Northeastern University, beam authority in the academic circles. It’s also common to see higher salaries offered by employers nationwide for grads from high-caliber universities like these.
It should be no surprise that academic institutions look where you went to school, too. You should expect to go to a great school, no matter if it’s online or not. Aim high and focus on getting to your goals.
Fun fact: Stanford, Northeastern, and Cornell – among other spectacular schools – offer various online degree programs. You may not know that, because of over saturation and hype some colleges & universities are a part of.
Over Saturation Of For-Profit Education
If you’re like most people, you watch TV, listen to the radio, and browse the web. If you’ve ever searched for a great college online you found many websites and advertisements that gave only a one sided view of “the best college for you.” Schools like University of Phoenix, ITT Tech, Devry University, and Grand Canyon University are omnipresent. They are on the tube, the radio, and within your search results.
Fun Fact: did you know that many of the top for-profit schools, like the ones mentioned above, use over 25% of revenue on advertising, but only about 10% on paying the educators (reference College Inc.). Doesn’t it seem weird that more money is spent in obtaining the students than educating them?
For-profit education is detrimental when considering further academia, and as chance would have it, it is also viewed disapprovingly by majority of the public. Try to avoid going to for-profit colleges and universities for your online learning needs – even if they are regionally accredited. The only exception would apply when you don’t have any other option.
For starters, your local community colleges, State universities, and even private schools can offer great instate tuition for your online degree. If you are ambitious and are seeking a specific program from a great school, chances are it’s available through online education. Get past the minutia and dig deeper, check out blog posts and forum threads, go directly to the school’s website to search for online course offerings, and even pick up the phone or visit the campus to get more info about online education.
What You Can Do To Get Started Right
You are the only person that knows if online education is right for you, but to make things easier consider the following:
- Regionally accredited college or university is a must!
- When seeking specialized degree programs, like Business or Engineering, seek the best programmatic accreditation
- When possible, avoid going to a for-profit college or university. Remember for-profit university doesn’t mean private university.
- Now, more than ever, your college grades matter. Naturally, they’ll be scrutinized when applying for further schooling, but did you know that 21st century employers check transcripts, too?
- Start by looking for best schools and programs first, then move down the list if you’re having trouble getting in – don’t go the other way around. Aim high the first time.
- Some schools may not be very well known, but they may offer an amazing (well ranked) degree program. There’s no shame in pursuing what you like.
- Your local higher learning institutions may offer great tuition. Think of in-state universities. For example, if you live in California, then the University of California and the California State University systems may be of great value to you. Many state universities offer online programs.
- Keep relationships with peers and professors, even if it is by email.
- When in doubt seek counsel, especially from professors and people who went through what you are going through.
About The Guest Author
My name is Radek M. Gadek and I am a successful college graduate (at least I would like to think so). I attended college both on campus and online and obtained a BS in Business and a Master’s in Criminal Justice.
Unwittingly, I ended up going to a for-profit university to finish my Bachelor’s degree, and despite being well-prepared by the academic institution, I have received scrutiny from friends and family. What’s even worse, when I was applying to graduate school, I was told by each of the admission’s representatives about the negative impacts of my baccalaureate education. A true life’s little lesson learned, but way after the fact.
I ended up pursuing my goal of obtaining graduate education in Criminal Justice, and with my online undergraduate degree, despite the odds, I was able to get into top Criminal Justice and Criminology schools in the nation. How did I do it? I followed most of the points mentioned above, and of course, I had a little bit of luck on my side.
Presently, I write on online degree issues. I also host a blog that focuses on Criminal Justice degree programs, colleges, and careers. I’m open for comments and questions at firstname.lastname@example.org