Comparing online colleges is different than traditionally structured colleges. With traditionally structured colleges, you can visit a campus and take a tour. Such is not the case for online colleges. However, researching and asking questions suited to your needs are key ways to evaluate different online schools. What are you looking to study? What are your goals once you graduate? What type of schedule will suit you? What are your learning needs (what is your learning style)? Knowing your needs and desires before you begin your research will be key.
One of the first things you should do to save you time and energy learning about each school is to be sure the colleges you are considering are accredited by one of the six regional accreditation agencies recognized by the USDE or CHEA. This way, you will not waste your time considering “diploma mills” or unaccredited institutions where you might do all the work but not receive a real degree.
Once you have narrowed the pool down to legitimate schools, you should establish your personal set of criteria to find out what is important to you in a school. Is a big name important? Do you need to stick to a set budget? Does the school have a program in the field you want to learn? Does the school have classes with complete flexibility, or will you have to participate in online discussions at a certain time? It is most important though that the school fits your own personal needs, so be sure you evaluate based on your criteria so that you get the most out of it.
You may want to evaluate an online school by its instructors, which is another way to be sure you aren’t considering a diploma mill. Schools usually have a list of faculty in each department or along with course descriptions, and you can usually check out their qualifications to see what they bring to the school. Many are professionals in the area they are teaching, while some are actual professors in the typical sense who may also be leading a distance-learning course.
When comparing schools, doing your background research can make all the difference. Try asking questions on message boards about the schools you are looking at. While information you receive might be biased, you can at least begin to assemble a better idea of what the school’s programs are like, and what others perceive to be the pros and cons.