The phone must have rung 20 times before I heard the answering message. At first there was a scratchy sound, followed by a kind, elderly female voice announcing that I'd reached the admissions office.
If I would only leave a brief message with my question, it said, she would get back to me shortly.
Typically, I would have bought it. But this was the third time I'd left a message in three days.
When I set out to find an online personal finance course, I planned to find a class and register within two or three hours, tops.
In retrospect, I should have budgeted a week.
My search for an online class started with a fruitless Google query that pointed me to news articles instead of actual courses. Next I spent time looking at for-profit online schools, figuring they would be customer service oriented, but that also proved frustrating. Every time I clicked on text saying "request more information," I was transferred to an electronic form that demanded my own.
Overwhelmed, I turned to the U.S. News list of best online bachelor's programs, assuming at least some of them would have what I was looking for. Clicking at random, I began my search for the elusive online course schedule.
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To be fair, some of the schools' websites were great, clearly directing me to the fall semester's online offerings. Most, though, felt like the Internet version of the kind of infinite customer service call where you are passed from person to person without ever getting your question answered.
When I got too confused on a school's website, I picked up the phone and called the admissions office. Sometimes I had to leave messages. Sometimes I was put on hold. Every now and then I was told I had called the wrong admissions office – the brick-and-mortar version, not the online operation. Once or twice I was informed I was searching on the wrong website altogether and that the face-to-face and online programs actually had different course schedules.
After a week of looking into possibilities, I found three classes that met my criteria. Two were eight-week "intensive" courses, which initially had a "rip-the-Band-Aid-off-and-get-it-over-with" appeal. But as soon as I realized I'd be cramming a semester's worth of work into two months, I decided I'd pass.
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Once I had found my course, I had to apply to the school and be accepted. Thankfully, the process was nothing like it was for my liberal arts college.
Instead of writing a personal essay about how enriched my life would be by a personal finance course, I simply had to submit an online form with my name, address, social security number and educational background. I also had to indicate that I was a guest student – someone who wasn't taking the course as part of a degree.
I waited three days to hear if I was accepted. And then I waited three more days. Finally, after an email and a call to the (correct) admissions office, I got the news:
Trying to fund your online education? Get tips and more in the U.S. News Paying for Online Education center.