Tuesday, April 12, 2011

What to expect when enrolling in an online degree program

An adult's guide to pursuing a college degree while balancing work, family, and other commitments

A single mom who is struggling to raise her children and go back to school.

An executive whose lack of an MBA is stopping her from moving up the corporate ladder.

A soldier stationed in Afghanistan who doesn't want to wait to leave the service to complete his degree.

A 40-something businessman who really wants to finish that degree he started 20 years ago.

Or a 40-something working mother who wanted to complete the master's degree she started 10 years ago. (That's me!)

All of these individuals have used online education to realize not only their academic potential, but their human potential as well.

People from all walks of life, from all age groups, and from all socioeconomic backgrounds and career experiences are living proof that it's never too late to earn that college degree. Moreover, doing so online allows them to improve their skills and career prospects while balancing their busy lives.

It's not news that millions of people today are taking online courses. The 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning finds 5.6 million students were enrolled in at least one online course in fall 2009, the most recent term for which figures are available. The survey also shows that enrollment rose by almost 1 million students year-over-year in 2010 -- the largest annual growth in the number of students studying online.

What is news, however, is the growth of online master's degree programs. In fall 2009, more than 500,000 students were enrolled in online master's degree programs, according to Boston-based research and consulting firm, Eduventures.

Some of the nation's oldest and most well-known universities, including Post University (we were founded in 1890), are providing high-quality online programs for working adults who can't afford to put their lives on hold to get an undergraduate or graduate degree -- but also can't afford not to pursue higher education.

There's no doubt about it, the future of online education is now. Online education is no longer new or unusual. It's gone mainstream to the point where people are pursuing master's degrees online. At Post, for instance, in addition to offering 17 undergraduate programs, we offer four online master's degrees with 12 different concentrations.

However, the trick now is to find the online program that gives you the flexibility you need without sacrificing quality. That's why we're starting this new series on the Post University blog, "What to expect when enrolling in an online degree program."

I'll be covering what you need to know about earning a degree online and why all online degree programs are not created equal. If you're considering earning a degree online, I have been in your shoes! I'm about to earn my master's in education from Post University this May.

Looking back on my experience, I've learned a lot about how to go about the process of finding the right online degree program; what to look for in a program; and how to balance education with work, family, and other commitments.

And I have to admit that I was a little nervous about making the move from a campus-based to an online learning environment. I thought the online format might leave me feeling less connected to my classmates and professors. Turns out, I actually felt more connected because we would "talk" on the online discussion board nearly every day, and I learned so much from that interaction.

I hope my experience sheds light on the unknowns and assuages any fears you might have about online education. More to come soon!