When making the decision to return to school, you should take time considering the right institution. In the past few years online military colleges have expanded their offerings, making attending a virtual school a great way to work on a degree. If you decide that an online program is best for you, there are several things you should consider as you compare programs:
Pay close attention to scheduling requirements.
Many schools offer flexible scheduling, but not all their scheduling may qualify you to use various forms of student aid. For example, if you are using Federal Student Aid, you have to follow a set course schedule with an attendance requirement, which can rule out flexible, student-paced programs.
Explore all fees associated with any program.
While it is easy to fall into the program with the lowest tuition to save money, it also easy to get into a program with many hidden fees that suddenly run up the program cost. For example, some programs include books in their tuition costs while others do not. This simple difference can mean hundreds of dollars each term in saved cash.
Utilize social media to check out the prospective online military colleges.
With the popularity of many online networking sites like Facebook and Twitter and LinkedIn, it is easy to find a virtual community of students and alumni. This is a great place to plug into the overall feel of a school, see how happy current students are and also to ask general questions. Because you are not able to visit an actual campus for the most part, visiting a virtual community is the next best thing.
Explore every aspect of the online military colleges’ Web sites.
Taking a few hours to click through the full Web site and seeing how it compares with others is also a good glimpse into the overall school. You will find that the web presence of many schools varies and there are some less than reputable schools that are poorly represented online. The Web site should be user friendly with easy access to information.
Find a useful contact at the school.
Beyond a useful Web site, another key source of information when comparing online military colleges is to find a knowledgeable staff member at the college to answer questions. Many people do not utilize advising to its fullest potential, and this is actually a very important part of finding the best-fit program. If you find your first contact at the school less than knowledgeable, don't be afraid to ask for a supervisor to get the answers you need.
Explore all the degrees and certificates available from each program.
While you may go in thinking you are at a place where you can commit to finish a full four-year degree or graduate program, we all know things can change pretty quickly. Being aware of the certificates you can earn along the way is important in the event you need to take time away from the program.
Taking special care to compare all aspects of online military colleges will allow you to make an informed choice as you prepare to jump back into school. With the variety of programs available there is no need to settle for a program that does not fit your scheduling needs, interests or even job requirements. In order to find the information you need to make the final decision, taking the time to compare and research is key. You can never ask for too much information or learn too much about the online military colleges you are considering.
Contributed by Alex Bach, Grantham University