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Beginner guide to online degrees

Thinking about getting an education online? If so, you're not alone. Even major universities are turning to online classes, to help reduce costs and reach people at a greater distance. However, not all online degrees are created the same. You'll have to do a little research and make sure you've got what it takes if you want to earn your online degree. Here's a guide to education via the Internet to help you understand the process.

Accreditation

It's easier than ever to build a slick web page and have professional looking copy. However, a degree won't help you much if the online university you sign up with isn't accredited. This isn't a new problem - unaccredited colleges and universities have been accepting students for years, without telling them that their degree isn't backed up by a third party. But it's easier to do online, since few people remember to check up on the college they hope to virtually attend. Unfortunately, the quality of instruction and the degree you get from a non-accredited institution aren't going to measure up to those from a better one. So, make sure you learn everything you can about an institution before you pay a cent. Online education isn't necessarily a scam, but there are a few out there.

Computer

Since your computer is going to be the primary means through which you get your education, you have to have a good one. That doesn't mean you need a top of the line gaming monstrosity or a computer ready to process complex algorithms for you. What it does mean is that you have to have a computer you can rely on. If your family computer is a dozen years old, has "quirks" that you have to know how to get around, and is still running ancient software, you may have problems.

Choose a computer that will support basic Internet access and word processing, using programs that are compatible with what your college or university is using. Windows machines are the most widely supported, though Macintosh computers may function, as well. If your college uses proprietary software, and you're a Linux user, you may find it's worthwhile to keep a backup copy of Windows to reduce inconvenience.

Skills

You also need to check out your basic computer skills. After all, they're the means by which you communicate with your institution. You don't have to be a computer genius, but if you have trouble operating your word processor, can't always navigate the Web without getting confused, and need to ask for help frequently, it might be time to brush up on your skills. Good computer literacy is a must if you're hoping to earn a degree online. Fortunately, there are plenty of resources that can help you increase your skills if they're lacking.

Access

How often will you be able to access the computer? If you usually don't log on more than once or twice a week, and have to share the computer with the whole family, time constraints could get in the way of your education. If you're frequently away from the computer, the way many people in the military or on business can be, you could also have problems. For some, the solution is a laptop, but others may have to delay their online education until computer access is more regular. Most online universities suggest that you allow a minimum of three hours of computer time per credit each week. If you're taking a three credit course, that means nine hours per week, just for that course.

Internet

You'll need a high speed connection for the vast majority of online education opportunities. These connections are more consistent and much faster than dial-up. This can be a problem for people in parts of the world that don't have DSL or cable access. Make sure that you'll have a high quality connection, since more and more universities and colleges are using video and multi-media presentations in their courses. Dial-up Internet access can be acceptable for a course containing mostly text and still pictures, but is too slow for streaming video. If you have questions, contact the school or administrator for their recommendations.

Commitment

You have to be your own taskmaster when you study online. This takes a lot more discipline and commitment than studying in the classroom does. After all, at home you have far more opportunities to get distracted and do something else. An in-person classroom teacher can keep you on track. That doesn't mean you can't stick with it and get your degree online, however. It just means that you're going to have to clear space in your schedule, take care and make sure you get your work done well, and make schooling a priority. After all, a degree could make a big difference in your life.

Earning your degree online often takes a lot longer than doing it full time at a local college. That's because most online students don't have the time to take a full course load. Factor this in to your thought process when you're deciding if you can handle the commitment. Remember to take your friends and family into account, too. They need to understand that you have a new demand on your time and energy, and they have to be willing to respect that. Good support is an important part of earning your degree. If you know what you have to put into it, your chances of getting an online degree get a whole lot better.
 

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