6 Questions to Ask When Choosing an Online College Degree

by Stephanie Thurrott

Many students who are completing bachelor’s degrees or working toward graduate degrees find that an online college degree best meets their needs. According to William Watkins, program representative in the Office of Graduate and Professional Admissions at Azusa Pacific University, this is because choosing an online program is often a matter of fitting school into their lives—not the other way around.

“You might choose an online program because you have other time pressures or scheduling commitments,” Watkins noted, or you may not want to add another commute to your daily or weekly routine.

But it’s not always easy to narrow down the choices for your online college degree. Identifying the school and program that’s the right fit for you is crucial. Here are six questions to ask when weighing your options.

1. How Can I Get a Feel for the College and Available Courses?

Different schools offer programs in different areas. You can start narrowing your list by only considering colleges and universities that offer your preferred program of study. Once you’ve landed on a few attractive options, you can dive more deeply into each to evaluate whether they would be a good fit.

You may not be able to visit campus in-person, so Watkins suggests exploring online materials and videos to get a better understanding of the school. “Look for a quick tour of the school’s online learning platform to get to know how you will engage in classes,” he suggested. “You’ll want to know what the classes look like and how students interact.”

2. What Format Options Are Available and Best for Me?

Fully Online vs. Low-Residency or Hybrid

For some students, a fully online program may be the best fit. With such programs, there are no campus visits needed, and all the degree requirements can be completed remotely. This may work great for you if you desire a high level of flexibility.

You may also want to consider low-residency or hybrid programs, which are conducted almost entirely online but have a few set times when students and professors meet in-person, usually for intensive sessions of learning, field explorations, and community building. This type of program is well-suited to individuals who need flexibility but would benefit from periodic face-to-face connections.

Synchronous or Asynchronous Courses

It can also be helpful to know if the program you’re interested in has synchronous or asynchronous courses. “That decision will impact your schedule and help you determine how you will find time for school,” Watkins said.

With synchronous courses, you’ll sign on for classes at a set time, along with your professor and classmates. With asynchronous courses, you can complete your coursework whenever it works with your schedule. At APU, most online programs offer asynchronous courses, allowing you to more easily fit schoolwork into your busy life.

3. What’s the Time Commitment?

You’ll need to find time for your coursework in your everyday life, so you’ll want to know how many hours you’ll be expected to spend on classes. Keep in mind that online courses are typically just as demanding as in-person courses. While internet-based courses can be completed from anywhere, often at any time, you may want to balance the number of classes you take with the existing demands related to your work, family, and other commitments.

4. How Can I Feel Like I’m Part of the College Community?

Watkins said that online students still want to feel connected to their school even if they don’t spend much time on campus. If you’re thinking about pursuing a bachelor’s or graduate degree online and want to experience the school’s culture, look into what options are available.

For instance, you can typically purchase college gear from the school’s bookstore online and get a student ID. And if you live near the school, you may be able to attend on-campus events even if you take classes online. In today’s world, a lot of events and offerings are being streamed over the internet, so you can feel connected to your campus community no matter where you’re located.

5. What College Resources Can I Access Online?

Technical requirements vary between schools, so you’ll need to make sure you have the right equipment to participate in your classes and work toward an online college degree. Colleges and universities strive to make this easier by offering a number of resources online.

As an online student, you’ll probably want to be able to do everything remotely—submit an application, pay for tuition, access financial aid, and connect with career development resources, among other actions. Take some time to ensure the program you’re considering doesn’t have any in-person requirements that would be challenging for you.

You may also want to connect with tutoring, academic support programs, or other resources to support your studies.

6. Where Can I Get More Answers?

For answers to these questions, start with the website for your chosen school’s online program. From there, you can explore the university’s resources for online students, learn more about online learning, and get answers to common questions. You’ll also likely be able to request more information and connect virtually with a representative, like you can at APU.

Are you feeling ready to enroll in an online college degree? Learn more about how you can advance your education online with Azusa Pacific University.