Online Universities: 5 Tips Before You Pursue a Degree universities—particularly for-profit institutions—are under a congressional and regulatory microscope. Lawmakers and officials at the Department of Education have raised concerns over these schools' ability to ensure that graduates can parlay their degrees into steady jobs. If you plan to enroll in an online school to start or finish your degree, be sure to rigorously evaluate the institution before you enroll and potentially take on tens of thousands of dollars in loan debt. Use these five tips to get started:

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1. Check for accreditation. There are six regional accrediting bodies in the United States. If an online school hasn't been accredited by one of these, there may be reason for you to be wary of the school's quality, or at the very least of your ability to transfer credits should you choose to attend another school. The Department of Education has a database of accredited schools, which is a good place to verify a school's credentials. Also, "ask about their credit transfer policies, and if you can know how many of your previous credits will transfer before you enroll," says Lauren Anuskewicz, spokesperson for Colorado State University's Global Campus.

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2. Talk to graduates and former students. You may use social networks like Facebook and Twitter frequently for amusement, or simply to kill time, but they can be helpful tools as well. Use these social networks, or the professionally oriented LinkedIn, to connect with people who have attended the school. Ask them about their experience as a student and in their subsequent job search, recommends John Bourne, executive director of the Sloan Consortium, an association of online schools.

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3. Check with employers. How do they regard online degrees? Most people pursue an online degree with a specific job or specialty in mind. So why make the sacrifice the time and money before you're certain of the end result? Talk to employers in your field of interest and see if they're receptive of applicants with online degrees. If they're not, striving for an online degree would be futile. "While some employers, such as state and government agencies, are quick to accept these degrees, other employers remain a bit old fashioned and don't feel these degrees are the 'cream of the crop' or carry the same weight as traditional degrees," says Pat Wyman, author and founder of teaching site

[Gain insight on the current job market for online graduates.]

4. Review the data. The Department of Education publishes loan default rates and loan repayment rates for every institution in the nation that receives federal funding. For-profit online schools tend to have worse rates than other institutions, so examine the rates on a school-by-school basis. A high default rate or low repayment rate should generally raise red flags, education experts agree. Graduation and retention rates are also published on the Department's college navigator site, but these rates only take into account first-time full-time college students, which typically are a significant minority—usually less than 5 percent—of an online school's total enrollment.source:
By Brian Burnsed


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