The Guide

7. Frequently Asked Questions

Q. What, exactly, is online learning?

Q. How long do such programs take to complete?

Q. What kind of computer/tech skills will I need?

Q. What kind of computer hardware/software will I need?

Q. It’s been years since I wrote a paper/took a math class/studied for an exam. What if I’ve forgotten a lot of what I learned?

Q. How do I know if the institutions I’m considering are well respected?

Q. What should I look for in terms of an institution’s faculty?

Q. Will I get admitted?

Q. What financial assistance is available to me?

Q. What, exactly, is online learning?

A. Online learning programs includes those which are fully online, a combination of online and on-campus, competency-based, or self-paced and independent. Some programs are offered “at a distance,” which may not be online at all.
 
Fully online, combination online/on-campus, and competency-based programs are by far the most prevalent, all being term-based programs in which students are required to complete courses or demonstrate knowledge and abilities within an institution’s specific time frame. Here's a primer <link to internal page "Primer"> on the kinds of programs you may encounter.
 
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Q. How long do such programs take to complete?

A. That depends on the structure and organization of the program under consideration; any transfer of prior credit earned or application of prior work-related experience, training, and/or knowledge; whether you can test out of certain courses; and your skills, prior knowledge, and how many courses you can effectively fit into your schedule. More information can be found in "What, exactly, does online learning entail?"   
 
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Q. What kind of computer/tech skills will I need?

A. You must know how to work efficiently on a computer and navigate around online and offline electronic environments. Computer- and Internet-related proficiencies that will come in handy as an online student include knowing how to:
  • copy, paste, delete, and save files;
  • download and install software;
  • keep your computer in good working order, including proper maintenance and backup procedures;
  • use word processing software (Microsoft Word, Google Docs, etc.), presentation software (Microsoft PowerPoint, Keynote, Prezi, etc.), and spreadsheet software (Microsoft Excel, Google Docs Spreadsheets, etc.), depending on the program enrolled in;
  • create PDF documents;
  • attach documents to e-mail communications;
  • be information literate, in short, the ability to search effectively online, including analyzing resources and the utilization of an online library service
  • manage and organize computer files and folders;
  • effectively use a web browser and its favorites folder;
  • participate in synchronous and/or asynchronous discussion forums; and
  • navigate within an online course management system where many of the elements of your course will be displayed.

 Most online programs provide students with online orientation sessions that are facsimiles of an actual online course. Many programs will require that you enroll in an online orientation session prior to taking your first full course. Sometimes these courses will award students with one credit upon successful completion. You also typically can find free demonstrations of actual online courses, open to the general public, at many of the online programs’ websites.

 
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Q. What kind of computer hardware/software will I need?

A. A typical required hardware and software scenario might look like this: 
 
Hardware:
  • Either a PC or a Macintosh computer running the most- or second-most-recent operating system
  • Decent amount of hard drive space, starting at a minimum of 10 GB
  • DVD-Rom or CD-ROM
  • Sound card with speakers and microphone
  • Video card
  • Minimum of 256 MB of RAM; it is strongly suggested to have at least 512 MB or more if possible
  • Backup storage device
  • Printer
  • Fax and scanner (access to one via a local business center will suffice)
 
Software:
  • Current operating system for your computer
  • Free Plug-ins, including Windows Media Player, Adobe Acrobat Reader, Flash Player, and Java
  • Antivirus software
  • Internet security software
  • Compression utility software
 
Internet/E-mail:
  • Preferably a broadband cable or DSL Internet connection, but a 56K dial-up connection will often be noted as the minimum requirement for Internet access
  • An e-mail account (free via gmail.com, yahoo.com, live.com, etc.)
 
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Q. It’s been years since I wrote a paper/took a math class/studied for an exam. What if I’ve forgotten a lot of what I learned?

A. You’ll be in good company. Many adults who return to school get jitters about having what it takes. Don’t worry if your skills are rusty. Most programs have freely available online tutorial services that will jog your memory. “What does it take to succeed in an online learning environment?” will help you understand the skills necessary to excel.
 
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Q. How do I know if the institutions I’m considering are well respected?

A. Knowing the accreditation status of any institution and program you’re considering is a crucial part of your decision-making process. Accreditation is a process whereby educational institutions or specific programs are endorsed by an association as viable teaching and learning establishments based on a set of rigorous educational standards. There are three types of accreditation that you need to be aware of: regional, national, and programmatic.
 
All institutions listed on the College Choices for Adults website are regionally accredited. View each institutions’ profile to see who accredits that institution.
 
For institutions who are not part of College Choices for Adults, you also can visit the National Center for Education Statistics College Navigator website, type in the institution’s name in the “Name of School” box, click on “Show Results,” and then navigate to the “Accreditation” tab, where both institutional and programmatic/specialized accreditation status are listed for almost every higher education institution in the United States.  
 
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Q. What should I look for in terms of an institution’s faculty?

A. Ask for documentation, such as biographic information or a curriculum vita (academic resume), about who will be teaching some of the courses in the program you are thinking about pursuing. See if you can communicate with any of the faculty members prior to enrolling. Ask what percentage of faculty is part-time or adjunct, what percentage is full-time, and how many have doctoral degrees. See if there are any faculty members in your program who are conducting specialized research (and are thus contributing knowledge to the field), then check out what they’ve published. Basically you're looking to find out who's teaching and how will their knowledge/skills contribute to your goals?
 
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Q. Will I get admitted?

A. You have numerous opportunities to pursue an online education, regardless of your age or your academic history. Getting admitted into any institution will depend on what level of higher education and the specific program you are thinking about pursuing.
 
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Q. What financial assistance is available to me?

A. While tuition and fees for online programs can vary to a wide degree according to institutional policies and degree level pursued, online learners can take advantage of financial aid programs just like any other college student.

Some online programs have in-state and out-of-state tuition fees and others do not. A variety of supplemental fees may apply for additional services and materials depending on the program. Your best bet is simply to talk to a counselor about tuition and fees. Every institution offering online programs also has extensive information about financial aid easily accessible online, making the process as easy as possible for you.
 
Our "What do I need to know about admissions and funding?" section provides you with more information on financial aid options and how to apply for aid.