Gathering relevant information about online school–how to enroll, what classes are like, how much will it cost and what exactly are the differences between traditional college classes and distance learning classes–makes the initial leap into the world of online higher learning education easier and less stressful. What prevents many people from taking online courses and receiving a degree or certification is the thought of having to flounder through the large amount of applications, instructions, financial aid forms and enrollment procedures prior to beginning an online educational program.
Do not let your anxiety over online school preparations prevent you from earning an accredited degree that can lead to hundreds of job opportunities and stable employment. Instead, read about everything you ever wanted to know about online school but were afraid to ask.
1. How much does a two-year, online degree cost? Four-year online degree?
The average cost of earning an online associate’s degree (two years) is between $7000 and $10,000. The average cost of a bachelor’s degree (four years) is simply double those averages–between $14,000 and $20,000. Accredited online colleges and universities accept financial aid from the U.S. Department of Education or students may choose to agree to a payment plan provided by the online school in which he or she is enrolled.
2. How do I find out if I am eligible for financial aid?
Visit the Free Application for Federal Student Aid website and follow the instructions to fill out and submit an application. You will need to know your social security and driver’s license number (if applicable), how much you earned the previous year if you worked and the name of the online school you plan to attend. The U.S. Department of Education will email you the results of your application within four to six weeks. If you are eligible to receive a Pell Grant award, the USDE will notify your school that you have been awarded a full or partial Pell Grant.
3. If I receive financial aid from the government, will it also help pay for textbooks and other expenses related to earning my online degree?
A full Pell Grant award is approximately $5500. Any extra funds remaining after tuition is paid will be disbursed by your school to a bank account designated by you. If you do not have a bank account, a check will be issued in your name. You are then allowed to use the excess funds to purchase books, supplies or software relevant to your degree program’s requirements.
4. What steps do I take to enroll? What if I attended college elsewhere and want to transfer to another school?
Enrollment consists of filling out an application for admissions (name, address, city, etc.) that will require prospective students to fax or email a copy of a photo identification card. If you previously took college classes and received credits for them, you will need to send a copy of your transcripts to the school so admissions can determine if you should be considered a freshman, sophomore, junior or senior. Additionally, you will have to provide proof that you graduated high school or earned a GED (General Equivalency Diploma).
Accredited online colleges and universities have student advisors ready to assist new enrollees with the admissions process as well. As long as a student is at least 18 years old, has a high school diploma, is a U.S. citizen and has the ability to pay for tuition costs, he or she should have no problem enrolling in an online degree program.
5. I am enrolling as a freshman but do not want to declare my major yet. Do I have to know which discipline I want to major in before I begin taking classes?
No. Many students are not sure what major they want to declare when initially enrolling and sometimes do not begin pursuing a particular major until their junior year. To earn an associate’s, bachelor’s or master’s degree in the U.S., the Department of Education requires that each student take a certain amount of credits in liberal arts and science classes regardless of their major. For example, a computer science major will need to choose classes in art, music, philosophy or history to fulfill these “general education” credit requirements. Even criminal justice, business and chemistry majors must take liberal arts courses before they can receive a degree. Therefore, if a student does not know what program of study he or she wants to pursue, they can spend a year or so taking general education classes along with beginning courses in which they may be interested.
6. How do online courses differ from courses taught at a “brick and mortar” university?
By taking online classes, students do not need to be physically present in a classroom at specific times. Classes can be accessed anytime using a computer capable of supporting special software (Flash, Java, Powerpoint,etc.) and a high-speed internet connection. Students can log in at any time, view assignments and lecture notes, submit homework and take examinations when it is convenient for them. However, the flexibility and freedom provided by online education that attracts many people to online degree programs sometimes proves to be a student’s undoing. Learning how to manage time efficiently and avoiding the procrastination “trap” which causes unprepared students to fall seriously behind in their studies is vital to succeeding as an online college student.
7. Where do I purchase textbooks and supplies?
Most accredited online schools have a bookstore in which students can browse and purchase items required for a certain course. Students may also find less expensive books and supplies at internet marketplaces like Amazon or Ebay. All supplies are directly mailed to the student.
8. What is a syllabus?
Once a student has registered and enrolled for the semester, each class instructor will email students a syllabus, or a detailed document containing everything they need to know about the course. Assignments, expectations, general information and examination dates are included in a syllabus, along with the instructor’s name and contact information.
9. Do I need to be a computer expert to take online classes?
No. However, students considering online courses should be familiar with navigating the internet, sending emails with attachments, downloading software, utilizing some kind of word processor such as Microsoft Word or Open Office and saving files to the computer. Although it is not necessary to know how to “touchtype” (typing without looking at your fingers), students should know how use a computer keyboard and the various keys contained in the keyboard such as “Esc”, “Ctrl”, “Alt” and the “F” keys. If you do not think you know enough to take an online course, consider accessing a free computer tutorial to help you prepare for online classes, such as one found at Free Computer Training.
10. Will I need to log in every day to access my classes?
Although you may not need to log in every day, it is highly recommended that students become accustomed to logging into to their online classes each day as a way of deterring the urge to procrastinate. In addition, each class will have its own chatboard that allows students to post questions and answers about lectures, assignments and anything else with which they may need help. A student who has already finished an assignment and may not need to log in to a class should consider doing so in case a fellow classmate needs assistance.
Accredited online college and universities also provide support services for students who encounter difficulty with certain classes or other aspects of the distance learning experience. Free tutoring for harder classes such as math, English, chemistry and computer sciences is given to any student requesting assistance. In addition, each student is assigned an adviser who will remain with the student throughout his or her online learning career.