Looking for an Online Degree ? Use My Checklist

by Ron Haynes

Getting my degree online was at once a liberating process and a very demanding one. Liberating because I could take pride in my accomplishment, but demanding in that I worked a full time job while doing it.

I assembled a checklist to use when you’re leaning toward getting or finishing a degree online. This list isn’t all inclusive and if you have any suggestions to add, please do. If you have any questions, I’ll be glad to answer those the best that I can.

Also, please check out Cash Money Life’s series on There is a lot of very good information on the application process there.

Is the school accredited? This is the number one item you must to investigate before proceeding any further. There is no sense in getting a worthless scrap of paper, regardless how pretty, if it comes from a bogus school. Make sure you don’t take anyone’s word for it. Just because they claim on their web site to be regionally accredited doesn’t mean they are. Investigate your school’s accreditation by going to the Department of Education’s website. There are plenty of scammers out there preying on your desire to better yourself.

Can you afford it? How much does it cost per credit hour? How many hours are required for graduation? If I had it to do over again, I would not get student loans. There are plenty of opportunities to work within the system of scholarships, grants, and work-study programs to help you get through school without loading up with debt. Resist the urge to just borrow the money and get started. Ask questions and try to find other means to get your education than debt, but if all else fails, you may have to take this option.

Will your current employer pay for your degree? Many employers will pay for distance education and online degrees because an educated workforce is a better workforce. Check with your company’s Human Resources department to see what policies exist for furthering your education. Don’t be afraid to ask. You might just be the 200th person to ask this month and push the decision makers off the fence. Of course, if you’re an entrepreneur, you know who’ll be paying for it.

What will be your course of study? What interests you? Business? Criminal justice? Nursing? Social work? Counseling? They are all offered plus many other courses of study that may interest you. Decide what does interest you and take the next step: call, mail, or email for additional information. I recommend setting up an online web based email address and using it only for the purpose of getting information on distance education. This way, once you’ve settled on a school and program, you can abandon the email address and not be constantly contacted by the schools you didn’t choose.

How are the courses delivered> Some professors use DVD lectures in addition to providing a lesson online. It is extremely useful to have a course with DVD lectures. Being able to rewind is highly valuable and many times, the professor provides illustrations in the DVD lecture that cannot be provided otherwise. If you won’t have the luxury of DVD lectures, does the professor provide his office phone number in case you get stuck on a problem or have a situation that will prevent you from taking a scheduled test?

How long will it take until you graduate? Map out with an adviser how to get finished in as little time as possible. You’ve gone long enough without your degree, so insure that the courses you need to take are offered when you need to take them. You may have to make some adjustments and take substitute courses. Make sure this is approved by your academic adviser. Have them send you a confirmation email. Save this email in a safe folder. You just may need it the semester you graduate!

Once you’re enrolled,

Set aside a particular time to Please don’t skip this important step in finishing your degree. If you’ve invested the time and effort to get this far, insure your success by consistent, focused study.

Participate in every online discussion. In many courses, you can achieve a full letter grade higher simply by participating in online discussions. At Baker College, I was required to participate in discussions five days per week. It was tough, yes, but it helped me learn discipline as well as the material.

Call and talk to your professors at least once. Having a voice to put with your online presence make the experience more personal for you and for them. If you can take a trip to the school to meet your professors face to face, so much the better. It forms a connection and makes you seem truly interested in learning. In a professor’s eyes, that is a good thing. :)

Pull your own weight if you work in a group. Nothing is more disheartening to the other members of a group than to have a slacker in their midst. Most online professors recognize those who don’t contribute to the group’s effort and penalize them accordingly. Some professors allow you to generate feedback concerning the participation of your group members. You will only help yourself by pulling your own weight. In several classes, I had to pull my own as well as some others. In one of my MBA classes, Systems Design and Analysis, I was the only one who did anything at all. The other group members had plenty of excuses and one even dropped the class after six weeks because the course load was too heavy. Me, I was taking 4 classes that semester, overseeing 16 stores, being a father to 3 children, a husband, and remodeling the company’s flagship store that was located next door to the home office. You do what you have to do.

Ask if a proctor is required for tests. Several of my classes for my MBA degree required a test proctor. You can usually use someone from a local community college, your boss, your local librarian, or any responsible yet disinterested third party. You cannot use your spouse, parents, siblings, children, employees, or anyone over whom you hold authority.

Decide where you’ll buy your books. I would suggest Half.com, Ebay, or Amazon. Pay special attention to the books you buy. Use the instructor provided ISBN number to search for your books but be careful. Many times cheap “International” editions use the same ISBN number. These are not always the same as the US editions. I have found significant differences in page numbers, content, answer keys, and paper quality. After a few episodes of this, I vowed to never buy an “International Edition” again. Your mileage may vary, but be careful and always have a backup plan.

If you buy new textbooks, ALWAYS register with the publisher. The publisher will usually have a key code to get you into their website where you can take practice tests, get answer keys, watch videos, and get free software that applies to the course you’re taking.

This list is NOT all inclusive and I’m sure there are plenty of other items to add to it. If you know of one, please email me by using the CONTACT button at the top of the page.

One other thing, don’t let your age prevent you from getting your degree. Once you’re enrolled, you’ll meet others in the same situation you’re presently in and they will be a big encouragement to you.

I wish you the best.


[tags]online degree, online education, distance education, MBA, university, college, finish degree online[/tags]

About the author

Ron Haynes has written 1000 articles on The Wisdom Journal.


The founder and editor of The Wisdom Journal in 2007, Ron has worked in banking, distribution, retail, and upper management for companies ranging in size from small startups to multi-billion dollar corporations. He graduated Suma Cum Laude from a top MBA program and currently is a Human Resources and Management consultant, helping companies know how employees will behave in varying situations and what motivates them to action, assisting firms in identifying top talent, and coaching managers and employees on how to better communicate and make the workplace MUCH more enjoyable. If you'd like help in these areas, contact Ron using the contact form at the top of this page or at 870-761-7881.


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{ 9 comments }

Frugal Dad

Great checklist! I finished up my degree online, and my only regret was that I didn’t go the online route sooner. For us “non-traditional” students out here with a full time and family you can’t beat the convenience, but it does take a lot of discipline.

angela

I’ve wanted to take online courses for sometime now, but I’ve got some remedial math to do (which can be taken online. I’m worried I may not be able to understand it as well online. Would you reccomend taking Algebra online or would this subject be better taken on campus? Thanks -Angela

Ron

@angela:
Hey Angela,

It’s hard to give you the kind of advice you’re looking for without knowing a little more. Math was always one of my stronger subjects but here’s some options to consider.

Ask if you can take the course as an audit. Audit courses don’t count, but you’re exposed to the same information. You would have some insight concerning the material covered and you could save yourself the trauma of finding out you weren’t cut out for an online math class.

Talk with some other people who have taken the course online. They can give you some idea of the amount of study time you’ll need and how hard the course was.

Have a heart to heart with the instructor. Tell him or her of your worries and concerns. You may be able to get some free tutoring and start a friendship as well.

I hope this helps a little. Taking an online course isn’t an easy decision, but it is getting more and more common. Best wishes to you. If you have any other questions, feel free to email me.

Gradon

I’ve been thinking about going for an online degree, and just yesterday wondered about some of the things you’ve counted. Great list, Ron.

Ron

@Gradon:
I’d say go for it. It is demanding and satisfying at the same time!

Aaron Stroud

A couple of thoughts. While student loans are certainly less desirable at the higher fixed rates, they still can be useful if used wisely. My wife and I used student loans to pay for school which let us use our income to fund Roths and to start building a house. If we hadn’t borrowed money @ 3%, we would have had to borrow more when we got our mortgage.

Also, I’d like to second the importance of talking to your instructors. I taught a technical writing class during grad school and most of my students never spoke to me outside of class. The handful who did talk me were generally dedicated students. Talking with your instructor is a great way to stand out and maybe even get the benefit of the doubt if any subjective grading is involved.

@Angela, if you’re not a “math person,” you probably won’t enjoy relearning algebra online. You’d probably be better off taking the class at a community college where you can get help during class and at the math tutoring center on campus.

Patrick

Great list, Ron! I completed several of my undergrad courses online while I was in the USAF. On-line classes were the only option I had to continue my studies while I was deployed to the Middle East. It was well worth the extra work though! :)

Ron

@Patrick:
I think that as technology increases it’s usefulness, we will see more and more people getting their degrees online. The “college experience” is a great thing. I loved being away from home, getting to make my own decisions, meeting new people, and learning a little about life, but given today’s exorbitant costs of tuition, room, board, and books, I’d be willing to bet that more and more financially minded people opt for the online edition. Who knows where things will be in another 10 to 15 years?

Steve

I must appreciate your work. from last couple of days i was searching for something interesting and this post is really nice.

Thanks for this nice post. :grin:

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