Don't Call it a Comeback
By Stephanie Nolasco   

We have all been taught that it's never too late to go back to school. In reality, tackling the 9-5 grind can make those dreams seem like a faraway fantasy. Thanks to technology, online schools have become available to aspiring students seeking to advance their careers or education without sacrificing their never-ending schedules. With the world going digital, many online programs are an alternative to obtaining a degree without attending a traditional university. With over 100 online schools, getting a degree, undergraduate or graduate, isn't impossible. Plus many colleges and universities now feature online programs that let you learn from afar and on your own time. However, can those hours surfing Facebook really be replaced with class? Sorry afternoon cartoon fans, this decision requires homework. 

Are you ready for this?
First things first, remember that this is still school whether its digital or not.  Taking classes from your kitchen table may seem easier or even less stressful than being at a traditional school but the responsibilities are still the same. In other words, you still have to do the work according to Peterson's Guide to Online Schools. So how do the pro's and con's stack up?  

Flexibility. According to the website Guide to Online, you can take classes whenever they're offered and you're not constrained by a traditional academic schedule or system. That same flexibility means you complete courses according to your schedule.

Work and Learn. One benefit of online universities is the ability to enroll in classes that fit your schedule. It means you can still work while getting your education and not necessarily sacrifice one for the other. The need to earn a living can be a deterrent for some when the idea of returning or starting school comes up.

Traveling becomes obsolete. Another plus is no more commuting. The time typically spent traveling back and forth between work, school and home can drop to zero. That means you can actually spend time in class or completing assignments. All you need is a computer and an Internet connection. You can open up your computer just about anywhere whether in a library or a grocery store and connect with your teacher and classmates.

Best of both worlds. The easiest way to get a degree on the web is by enrolling in a class associated with a bricks and mortar school. It might also provide you with more options; if you live in California but dream of getting a degree from a New York school, online courses might offer you the chance without moving your life cross-country. 

Extra dollars for equipment. A potential minus includes costs you might incur for equipment like software programs or a digital camera. Before signing up for any class read the course requirements carefully and make sure that you have the required tools needed to complete assignments. Since costs for these types of items can fluctuate, you may need to shell out more money than expected for things besides tuition and books.

Virtual isn't always better. Since online conversations don't account for subtlety or body language, you may not get the full learning experience you crave. Face-time with a professor or classmates often leads to discussion and better understanding of material depending on how you learn best. If you're looking at a chat screen or delayed video, you might feel like you're missing out.

Accreditation makes a difference. Not all industries view online schools as legitimate or favorably. An employer at a technology firm may be more accepting of an online degree than an employer at a financial services company. Make sure that online degrees or coursework are accepted in your industry of choice before diving in feet first.  

Find the right school
If you decide to go digital, do as much research as possible to find out what programs feature and whether it fits your needs. "Going to college requires a significant investment of time and money, so be sure to find out all you can about the coursework, quality of learning resources, and requirements," advises Patrick Partridge, the vice president of marketing and enrollment for Western Governors University, a fully accredited, online university that offers bachelor's and master's degrees in teaching, health, information technology and business. Partridge adds that "[w]hen you finish your degree, you want to know that you've successfully completed a demanding program that prepares you for career success."

When looking into online schools, it's always crucial to have all the information you need to make the right choice with ease. This includes jotting down a list of questions to ask a school advisor, talking to students currently enrolled in a program, and more importantly, making sure that it's a reputable school. Always investigate whether your chosen school is accredited, which means that it has been evaluated by educational authorities ensuring that its degrees meet state and national standards. The U.S. Department of Education can provide information on a school's national or regional accreditation. Note that regional accreditation only addresses requirements for specific states. That means requirements may be different depending on the state and the degree may not be valid in other cities or with certain employers. "Online universities should have regional accreditation, which is also given to campus-based schools," Partridge explains. In short, if an online university isn't accredited, chances are that it won't be approved by potential employers and could be a costly scam.  

A word to the wise
Advancing your education and doing it digitally involves time and work much like the time you would spend choosing a traditional college. Remember, it's your education, don't make a hasty decision! Create a list of all the pros and cons of studying online before deciding whether it's right for you. Spend as much time as possible exploring before making a decision that will forever change your future.


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