What to look for when researching online education

November 9, 2009

Interest in obtaining an online college degree is growing fast in America. Many organizations and companies are working to help students find everything from the right school to the right financial aid. In this article, Excelsior College provides some important facts to keep in mind when you're searching for an online education that fits your needs.

What does accreditation mean?
Knowing that a school is accredited offers prospective students peace of mind that they will receive a valuable and credible education. According to the U.S. Department of Education, “The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality.” ED.gov publishes a list of accrediting agencies considered reliable. Be cautious if the colleges you are considering are not listed on this Web site. They might be “diploma mills” which don’t provide a high-quality education.

Excelsior College is accredited by the Middle States Association of Schools and Colleges, one of the six major national accrediting agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

Are college rankings really important?

Yes, college rankings are important, as long as they are provided by legitimate rating services. One of the most respected college rankings lists is U.S.News & World Report magazine. Excelsior College is recognized in U.S. News & World Report, America’s Best Colleges 2010 and has been on the list for several years running. In addition, The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education magazine ranks Excelsior College in the top 100 colleges for enrolling the most Hispanics, and for the second year in a row, Military Advanced Education magazine has rated Excelsior College among the top 20 colleges serving the military. These are all credible and reliable sources to help in your search for selecting an online education institution

Finally, keep in mind colleges are ranked within different categories, so be sure to look for a category that is important to you.

Can you trust online college directories? Not necessarily…

If you’ve been searching the Internet for an online college to attend, you’ve probably come across many directories that list names and information about online colleges. These directories can be helpful, but they can also be misleading. Be aware that there are many Web sites that offer college rankings in exchange for paid advertising. Although they may seem legitimate, the ratings on these sites are not objective.

For example, a Web site categorized as “Top Online Colleges” or “Best Online Colleges” may only list the names of schools that paid to be listed there. Furthermore, one Web site lists its “Top Picks” for nursing programs, implying that they are the “best” nursing programs in the nation. But Excelsior College, which has the largest nursing degree program in the nation, is not listed. When in doubt, refer to trusted school directories such as Peterson’s or the National Center for Education Statistics.

Search Tip: For best results when searching an online directory, look for a specific type of degree such as “nursing” or “criminal justice” rather than use a general search query for “online colleges”.

Some things to know about finding financial aid:

Most accredited online colleges offer financial aid to qualified students. Researching financial aid online can be a bit confusing, but if you know where to look it should be fairly simple to start the process.

To receive financial aid, you will either have to go through the college you want to attend, or apply directly to a separate lender. Accredited colleges that offer scholarships, loans and other financial aid require the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). It’s a way to confirm whether or not a student is eligible for financial assistance. Go to FAFSA for step-by-step instructions for completing your FAFSA form. Although there is an abundance of information on the Internet about financial aid, remember you cannot obtain government financial aid online.

Like many online schools, Excelsior College offers grants, scholarships, and loans, as well as special payment plans to help students pay for tuition and fees.

Here’s a good process for finding financial aid:

  • Find an online college you’re interested in
  • Go to the school’s Web site to learn about their financial aid process
  • Contact the college by phone with your questions or to get an application

On a closing note, obtaining an online education is just as rewarding and credible as going to a traditional school for higher education. If you prepare properly and do your research, furthering your education may be just a few mouse clicks away.

Excelsior College hopes you found the information in this article helpful. If you’d like more information on our programs, you can reach us by calling 888-647-2388 or 518-464-8500 ext. 27, or email us at admissions@excelsior.edu.