Due to rapid advances in technology, the development of sophisticated distance learning software, and students’ desire for flexibility and convenience, online college enrollment increased by 17% between 2009 and 2009. In 2009, nearly 5 million students fulfilled all or part of their degree requirements online. Overall, 25% of college students now take classes online. The University of Phoenix alone enrolled more than 165,000 students in 2006. This figure is three times the number of students enrolled in the nation’s top 20 colleges.
If you are considering a blended degree program (online & on-campus), an online program, or a now residency program (online mostly with several days a semester in residency), there are a few things you should know before applying. First, you should make sure the school has been accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. According to the U.S. Department of Education (www.ed.gov), accredited schools have met specific academic standards. An accredited school is also eligible to participate in financial aid programs, specifically programs backed by the federal government.
The list of accrediting agencies is lengthy; visit www.ed.gov for the complete list. The following are just a few approved national and regional accrediting agencies. The CHEA and DETC are two of the top accrediting agencies for online colleges.
- Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA)
- Distance Education and Training Council (DETC)
- Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
- New England Association of Schools and Colleges
- North Central Association of Colleges and Schools
- Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities
- Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
- Western Association of Schools and Colleges
After verifying accreditation, check the admission requirements. The admission requirements for online colleges should mirror the requirements for traditional colleges. All online colleges should require a completed application, test scores, transcripts from all schools attended, an application essay, recommendation letters, a phone interview (in some cases) and at least a 2.50 GPA. If your GPA is lower that 2.50, you may be admitted on a probationary basis. During the probation period, which is typically one semester, you will be required to maintain 3.00 or 4.00 GPA.
Curriculum is one of the most important factors to consider when evaluating online colleges. A top online college will have the same or similar curriculum for its programs as a traditional brick and mortar institution. Just about every college or university lists curriculum requirements on their website. Same deal for online colleges. All you have to do is do a side by side comparison of your chosen program with the same program at a traditional college.
Finding Top Online Colleges
To locate accredited online colleges, visit the distance learning department or online division at top colleges and universities. To find top colleges, simply browse through the rankings at Princetonreview.com or U.S. News & World Report College Rankings. Online college directories such as Top Online Colleges are useful as well as Bing, Ask, or Google. Be sure to stick to organic search results for a better selection.
To read college rankings and reviews, visit U.S News & World Report Best Colleges 2010.