Choosing the right distance education program for you means finding a good fit between the distance learning experience and the kind of skills, knowledge, and credentials that will help you meet your educational goals.
Distance education requires self-motivation and a serious approach to learning because much of the work is done without supervision. Interaction between students and teacher and between the students themselves is also vital to the success of the distance studies student.
Distance learning programs can vary widely, so investigate your choices carefully. Visit school websites and you'll soon discover distance learning institutions range from traditional schools to virtual universities and offer programs just as diverse. You will need to do some exploring.
Accreditation is the number one verification of quality. But be careful, Accrediting agencies number in the hundreds, and bogus institutions have begun creating their own Accreditors to mislead consumers who don't do thorough research. There are however a number of ways to check on the legitimacy of Accreditors. The U.S. Department of Education (www.ed.gov) has a list of verified Accreditors and the Distance Education Training Council www.detc.org) can also help.
Here are some other important factors to consider when researching a program or school:
- the ratio of applicants to the number of applicants accepted.
- the average age of applicants accepted.
- years of previous work experience of applicants accepted.
- industry/background experience of applicants accepted.
- the average GPA and GRE scores of accepted applicants.
- what financial aid is available including assistantships, scholarships, teaching opportunities, etc.
- will you have to attend actual classes at specific times of the year?
- what technology will you need to participate in a program? Do you have the computer/modem specifications required?
- to what extent do students have access to university services and resources, such as the library?
- is there opportunity for interaction with other students? Does the program facilitate regular meetings, online chats, bulletin boards, video conferencing, etc.
- what is covered in terms of content?
- is there opportunity for students and faculty to interact?
- is there a mentor, advisor or supervisor system established in the program?
- are the faculty members actively involved with professional organizations?
- what is the quality or experience of the faculty?
- ask about the success of past graduates. What positions or job titles were held by students immediately upon graduating, and 5 years down the road?
- what was their average salary?
- what percentage of students actually complete their degree?
- what is the average time taken to complete a degree?
As an adult learner or distance education student, you owe it to yourself to find a school that will be supportive of your busy lifestyle, adult needs and non-traditional learning environment. Take the time to research your choices carefully and you will surely make the best decision to meet your needs.