Finding Top Online Schools: Accreditation, Curriculum & Other Things To Look For

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If you are in the process of searching for top online schools, you can save yourself a lot of time and energy by utilizing a combination of reliable ranking/rating websites, college directories, and maybe one or two senior-level  search engines. If you prefer a traditional college that does not operate entirely online, simply visit your top three colleges’ websites and browse through the distance education or learning department. Almost every college has distance learning programs or they will mention whether or not a specific program is offered online.

To find top schools, check College rankings or U.S. News & World Report Best Colleges 2010. Online school directories like are helpful as well as Google or Bing.

Once you have located several schools that sound appealing, you should do a background check. First, check to see if the school has been accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education ( Accredited schools have met specific academic standards and they are eligible to participate in federal student aid programs.

Two of the top accrediting agencies for online schools include the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) and the Distance Education and Training Council (DETC). The list of recognized accrediting agencies is quite lengthy, but just a few agencies to look for include: 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, and Western Association of Schools and Colleges.

If your online school choices meet accreditation requirements, check admission procedures next. All online schools should ask for a completed application form, official transcripts, admissions test scores, letters of recommendation, and an application essay. Many top online schools require a 2.50 GPA or higher. If an online school is eager to admit a student with less than a 2.00 GPA, this should raise a red flag.  In some cases, students with less that a C average may be admitted on a probationary basis, but this is rare. You may be required to attend a community college first to raise your GPA.

Finally, the curriculum for online schools should be no different than a traditional school. Many online schools offer accelerated programs, which is fine, but these programs should not eliminate entire courses for the sake of speed. If you have a program in mind, simply visit the website for a top traditional college, locate the curriculum requirements and compare them to the requirements for the online program. The courses should be similar at the very least, and the same at the very best. Good luck!


For more information on top online schools, including information about what goes on inside an online classroom, visit

Visit Princeton Review to browse through college rankings.


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