Whether you pay for your own classes, attend an online university on scholarship or by dint of student loans; whether you are taking one class or pursuing a degree; you need to know the facts about what you are getting into. Before you enroll at any distance learning university, you owe yourself the duty of doing some preliminary investigating. Start off by looking up a review of the universities you are considering—there are plenty of reviews and universities available online.
If you are seeking a degree, one of the most important factors to consider is whether the university is accredited. Accreditation can make the difference between being able to transfer credits between universities, should that become necessary, and whether you may be able to apply grants and scholarships to reduce your tuition costs.
If you plan to take a class because you are interested in a particular subject, you may be able to take advantage of a new trend in distance learning. Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, are college level courses offered for free, with no limit on class size. Some of the companies promoting MOOCs, most notably Coursera, are in the process of affiliating with universities from Princeton to Stanford. At their best, MOOCs are presented by the same professors who teach the classes at those prestigious universities. Because of the experimental nature of the project, though, and the fact that there are no class size limits, currently you cannot earn university credit for most of these courses. If you’re taking a class for fun, accreditation is not so important, but you may want to check out student ratings of the course, and especially of the teacher of the class. There is nothing less fun than taking a class for fun that turns out to be no fun.
Should you find the class or course of study that you want to take especially daunting, you might want to find out whether you will have the ability to study and network with other students. The best way to learn something is to teach it to someone else, but you can always give another student the opportunity to increase his grasp of the subject by going over it with you. In addition to being study buddies, other students can also provide a rah!rah! factor, motivating you to continue when you feel most isolated and confused. And if you’re really struggling, some universities provide tutors at little to no charge.
You should also check out how available and affordable the textbooks for each class are. You don’t want to be disappointed when taking a free class, only to find that the cost for the textbook for a course is way out of your budget. On the other hand, many professors assign E-books instead of textbooks, which can provide savings to students.
A final consideration is ease of access to traditional university resources, such as admissions counselors and academic advisors. Many universities make sure that they make themselves available to distance learning students through email and telephone, but you should verify that for yourself.
It turns out that learning about distance learning is an education in itself, one that will pay for itself many times over.