What to look for when choosing an online university in the USA

For many prospective international students, deciding to attend a US-based online university is the first step on the path to earning an undergraduate or graduate degree. But choosing to pursue an online degree can often lead to questions about how to find the right fit.

“International students should always do their research to make sure the online degree they are considering will help them achieve their goals,” says Evangeline Cummings, associate vice president and director of the University of Florida Online.

Here are six areas prospective international students should look for at an online university based in the United States:

— Reputation.

— Accreditation.

— Cost.

— Online degree acceptance at home.

— Access to employment.

— Services and support for students.

Reputation

An institution’s online reputation is an important factor to consider, experts say.

“Often, top schools that already have a strong reputation and legacy have also developed thoughtful and deliberate online extensions and pathways, ensuring a great online program and degree that benefits that school’s compelling reputation,” says Cummings.

Students can start by familiarizing themselves with top universities, she says, and exploring their programs and determining if online pathways are available for international applicants, such as through the Association of American Universities or the annual Top College Rankings. from US News.

Stephanie LeVan, director of the Center for Global Education at Charleston Southern University in South Carolina, notes that while looking at rankings is important, students should also look holistically at other factors, including student feedback. .

“Ask students about their experience,” LeVan says. “Are faculty members responding to questions in a timely manner, are the classes interesting, are online students receiving other support through the library, student success center, etc. as students in the field ?”

Accreditation

Prospective international students should check school websites to ensure that an online college is accredited, which means that a school and degree program have been reviewed by a recognized authority and meet educational standards. rigorous Americans.

“International students and their parents may not have the advantage of knowing a university’s reputation, so accreditation can assure them of an institution’s commitment to high-quality education,” said Cummings. There are many accrediting agencies, and students should make sure the schools they seek are accredited by an agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education, she says.

For example, the Higher Learning Commission, a regional accrediting agency founded in 1895, examines factors such as the difficulty of online courses and whether those courses and their instructors reflect the quality of on-campus offerings, Gerry says. McCartney, retired deputy director. president of Purdue Online, which Purdue University in Indiana created to coordinate its online offerings.

“We want our online students to have the same world-class education they would get if they had taken a program at our main campus in the United States,” McCartney said.

[Read: Accreditation of Online Degree Programs: Frequently Asked Questions.]

Accreditation is also important for other reasons. LeVan says this may affect the ability to transfer credits to other colleges in the United States and around the world.

“For example, if a student must change schools before graduating and the school they attend is not regionally accredited in the United States, it may mean that the credits earned will be lost or won’t be accepted by an accredited school,” she said.

Additionally, says McCartney, employers may require applicants to have graduated from an accredited school or program, and accreditation may be a factor in corporate tuition reimbursement.

Cost

The price of an online college should be considered, including how the cost compares to attending a physical school.

“Most schools easily provide their tuition, including online tuition, on their websites,” says LeVan. “Typical places for this information are on the financial aid or admissions web pages. If a student cannot find this information under these tabs, contact an admissions officer and explain that you need to know the tuition in line.”

Marc Embler, associate vice president of academic affairs and dean of the College of Adult and Professional Studies at Charleston Southern, says his university not only displays tuition for each program, but also provides a tuition calculator to determine with specify the cost of a degree. Students also have access to enrollment and financial aid counselors via email, phone, or text to help them manage costs.

“Tuition and fees can vary widely from program to program, even within an institution, so prospective students will want to be certain they review the information for the specific program they plan to follow,” says Tricia Berry, associate dean and director of clinical studies and internship programs at Purdue Global’s School of Health Sciences.

Online degree acceptance at home

International students should also research whether their home country’s government accepts online degrees and considers a specific program valid, experts say.

“Although online education is gaining acceptance and popularity around the world, not all countries accept online degrees,” notes LeVan. “Additionally, because countries are now competing for students globally, some countries have more protective policies to prioritize their own online national programs in higher education.”

International students who have received government funding or scholarships from their home country should check that online courses are permitted, Cummings says. International students receiving grants or scholarships from the United States would likely not have such restrictions, she adds.

Additionally, many countries have their own credential recognition criteria, LeVan says, so students should make sure their country of residence will recognize their degree online.

“International students should understand that programs designed for US universities are based on US standards and those standards may not apply in other countries,” Berry said.

For example, health information management programs in the United States are based on American standards for medical records management, medical billing and medical coding, she says. “Other countries may use very different systems and processes, so the information in this type of curriculum may not apply in another country.”

Access to employment

Employment is another important factor when considering a degree program at an online university.

“One way to look at the likelihood of career success after graduation is to look at the programs a school implemented while you’re still a student,” says LeVan. “Does the establishment give priority to internships? Are internships credited? Is the career center available for online students as well as field students? »

Cummings advises asking placement questions directly to schools of interest before deciding to apply. You can request information about graduates who have found employment through their degrees and evidence that the program you are interested in is valued by employers.

[Read: Why International Students Should Consider Online Colleges in the U.S.]

“The success of a program’s graduates should be evident and widely shared by the program, and you can find alumni stories and student stories featured on a premier program’s website and social presence. plan,” Cummings says.

She also recommends researching a university’s alumni reach and using tools like LinkedIn to see how graduates of a program in your area of ​​interest have fared in terms of employment.

Student Services and Support

It’s also important to research an online school’s level of support for international students and online students, such as counseling, tutoring, professional resources, and technical support.

Many online schools like Arizona State University and Pennsylvania State University – World Campus, which offer Penn State degrees completely online, have dedicated international student web pages with links to their support services.

“I always let online students know that they have access to all of the (same) support services as a traditional on-campus student,” Embler says. “This includes the Writing Center, Tutoring Center, Career Center, Library, etc.”

Student support can be a critical success factor, McCartney says. “If you are shopping for a program online, this is an area you should explore and consider carefully.”

He says Purdue is trying to make it easier for students to access technical and academic support online through the school’s web portal, email, call center and chat functionality with expert enrollment counselors.

“Ensuring students have the ability to connect with instructors and advisors is important to the success of international students who may be thousands of miles from our campus,” Cummings says.

Support can also come from connecting with other students online. According to Cummings, UF Online provides a virtual student hangout where students can receive the latest university news and join student groups based on location, major or specific classes, and area of ​​study. ‘interest. She says students can also create a new group.

“With over 4,000 students, they’re sure to find others with similar interests.”

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