Online students are likely to face the same tuition and fees as students on campus, according to Babson Survey Research Group, which found the expenses the same at 55 percent of 1,700 institutions surveyed in 2008. However, students can save money by going to school online because they do not have to pay for the expenses of commuting to and from campus. Furthermore, many companies offer tuition reimbursement for employees who enroll in an education program that is relevant to their field of work, provided that they maintain a certain grade-point average, which could save money for those who take programs online.
"The eLearners Advisor" is an assessment tool that is a good resource if you're unsure if you're a good match for an online education program,, says Andrew Gansler, the website's president. This assessment determines your preparedness to enroll in an online degree program and helps you find online degrees that match your educational and career interests.
How to Be Successful in an Online Program
One of the strongest indicators of success in an online program is a student's level of self-motivation. "If you're looking at adults going back to school online, the most successful are those that are highly motivated. They also are engaged in the process and where it's leading to and understand that it is a career steppingstone," says Lisa Gualtieri, the editor-in-chief of eLearn Magazine, a publication by the Association for Computing Machinery.
Students have to be technologically capable in order to perform well in an online course. Students must have access to an up-to-date computer with internet capability and basic technology proficiency to navigate and interact with the learning management system that the school uses to run the online course. In addition to being email and typing proficient, they must also be competent at creating PDFs and combining video, text, and chat features within an online presentation, says Gansler.
Online courses are typically delivered synchronistically, where students may watch prerecorded course lectures on their own time schedules. The other course format is synchronistic, where students attend virtual live course lectures at specifically scheduled times. For both formats, students can view recorded lectures, talking PowerPoint slides, readings, and videos online for the designated course. Also, chat rooms and discussion boards are often used for students to discuss homework or coordinate group projects. "For synchronistic courses, because you don't have to be there for the live lectures, it makes it more important that you are self-disciplined," Gansler says. "Students also need a support structure from their friends and family to ensure success."
Other keys to success: Students have to set a time commitment each week in order to do well in an online course. Maria Andersen, the higher education editor for eLearn Magazine, suggests allotting at least eight to 10 hours a week for a three- to four-credit class. And check college E-mail, as essentially all communications are via E-mail, Andersen advises.
A major factor in an online course is being involved and engaged in online class discussions. "The beauty of taking courses online is that you can't hide online. A good instructor is going to monitor and evaluate you on the degree that you participate," says Hartman with Drexel University Online. "The tools to access learning and participation online are light-years ahead of what you can do while teaching face to face."
How to Pitch Your Online Degree to Employers
The acceptance of online education by employers is still a mixed bag. According to a January 2008 poll by Excelsior College and Zogby International, 83 percent of business executives surveyed said an online degree was as credible as one earned through a traditional campus-based program. However, there are differing opinions among hiring managers. While 49 percent had encountered an applicant with an online degree, only 19 percent had hired such an applicant, according to a 2008 survey by Vault, a career services provider.