The Guide

5. How do I choose the right school & program for me?

The first step to choosing the right school and program for you is to understand your goals are personally and professionally.  If you know what industry or career you'd like to pursue, it will be easier to find a program that will help you gain knowlege and skills in that area. 

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a division of the U.S. Department of Labor, has two sites which might also help you in determining what industry you'd like to pursue a career in.  The first, BLS Career Information Home Page, is a aimed at K-12 students however, it still contains concise, useful information.  The other resource is the Career Guide to Industries.  This resource is more broadly aimed and contains a wealth of information on many industries.  These may help you set your list of learning goals to match the industry you'd like to pursue.

About.com also has a list of a few free self-assessment tools to help you discover your strengths, choose an industry or career that matches those, and set your goals.

Once you  have your goals set, you can search our Find a Program section to see the stated program learning outcomes, assessments and results of those assessments for each program listed on our site.  You can even compare two programs side by side to determine which one will bring you closest to meeting your goals.

Prior to enrolling, it is a good strategy to understand the online curriculum’s requirements, teaching and learning methods, and what the programs objectives and proposed outcomes are. Getting a solid idea about the variety of online program course requirements and teaching and learning methods you may encounter, as well as what the program claims you will learn, know and apply once you graduate, is a good strategy to take prior to possibly enrolling.

 
Every online program has a unique set of courses and teaching and learning strategies for putting you on track to gain the appropriate knowledge and skills for career advancement. One of the best ways to find out all the information you need to make an informed decision about any program is to simply ask the counselor assigned to you a lot of questions. If you feel that the counselor cannot effectively answer your questions, don’t hesitate to ask to be connected to another representative, such as a dean, department chairperson, or faculty member. To help you formulate your questions, use our 21 Questions to Ask Before Enrolling.
 
What to Look At
Here are some areas of interest that may be relevant to your search process as you decide on what program to pursue:
 
 
A Word on Math Courses
If you are thinking about enrolling in a program that emphasizes management and leadership practices or the sciences and engineering, you may want to know what kind of math-oriented courses you will be required to take. Math-oriented courses, which are called “quantitative” courses by academics, basically deal with numbers, factual statistics, and data. To succeed in these courses, you’ll need a strong set of math skills, ranging from algebra through calculus; know how to work with spreadsheet software; and perhaps have a good understanding of statistics, accounting, and/or finance. Make sure you are prepared to take these kinds of courses before you actually enroll in one. Ask your counselor what kind of skill set you will need if you will be enrolled in quantitative courses. Typically the program will offer some kind of remedial courses or tutoring in these areas to help you if needed.
 
Online Faculty
Understanding the faculty at any institution is another factor you may want to consider when choosing an online program.  Information about the professionals who are teaching online courses is not always prominently displayed on many websites. However, that does not mean that you cannot obtain this kind of information from counselors or the administrators who manage the program you are thinking about pursuing. Don’t hesitate to ask questions about the faculty. 
 
Assessing the Overall Quality of an Online Learning Experience
As you discuss how the final learning outcomes of any online course or program will benefit you, bear in mind that the end result of your studies should be no different than if you were to enroll in a traditional on-campus course or program. Make sure you feel comfortable knowing that the quality of any online program you are considering is equal to or greater than any traditional on-campus education experience.
 
And don’t forget, it is up to you to take an active role in your education — online or otherwise — in order to get all the benefits an institution has to offer. Education is a two-way street; you must bring your own knowledge and experience to class to share with your instructor and classmates so that everyone can benefit from and build on that perspective.