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How to Tell if an Online Degree Program Is Rigorous Enough

Use these tips to help you find the right online degree for your educational and professional goals.

Online degree programs can be immensely rewarding when you use the right criteria to select them—and finding one that is rigorous should be a top consideration. When you graduate from a rigorous online degree program, you may be more likely to catch the eye of a future employer, be better prepared to handle the daily challenges of a new job, or even gain an advantage when it’s time for a promotion. But how do you determine rigor when choosing an online university? Here are a few considerations that will help you select an online degree program that delivers the quality education you desire.

Is the online college or university an accredited institution?

Accreditation is a mark of quality and ensures that a university or college meets a consistent level of academic standards. However, it’s important to understand that there are different levels of accreditation. If the institution you’re considering is regionally accredited, it’s an indication of excellence and adds value to your chosen degree, now and in the future. Courses from nationally accredited schools, however, are not as widely accepted for transfer credit and are often excluded from corporate tuition reimbursement programs. Lastly, specialized accreditation is granted to a school, college, or program within the university, and is often associated with certification or licensure. Specialized accreditation indicates students will be prepared in their particular field upon graduation. If the school, program, or degree you’re considering isn’t accredited, you may encounter challenges in achieving your educational and career goals, including qualifying for tuition assistance and capturing the interest of hiring managers.

How to Tell if an Online Degree Program Is Rigorous Enough

Does the faculty have real-world experience?

In other words, are they scholars and practitioners in their field? Have they conducted extensive research, published papers, or presented their findings at prestigious conferences? Do they also have broad or longtime experience working in their profession? When you’re enrolling in an online degree program for the purpose of starting or advancing your career, academic knowledge isn’t enough; you need to learn from those who’ve been where you’d like to go.

Will the college or university’s program options allow you to focus on your particular area of interest?

Online degree programs may include specializations, concentrations, elective clusters, undergraduate minors, and other ways to focus your studies with a relevant curriculum. Those that do are usually more attractive options for adult learners who have a particular field, career path, or even job role in mind. The ability to focus on the relevant knowledge and skills within a particular area of expertise can help you more effectively reach your goals.

Are there opportunities for in-person, face-to-face experience?

In certain fields—education, nursing, and social work, to name a few—some of the most important learning comes from hands-on experience in a real-world environment. If you’re beginning or advancing in one of these careers, look for an online degree program that also offers faculty-supervised field placements, practicums, and other direct experience. Other opportunities for direct learning and communication include in-person residencies and virtual field experiences.

What type of support does the school offer its students?

A rigorous program requires equally strong support—particularly when all or most of your learning takes place online. The right college or university will offer resources and support services such as personal advisors; 24/7 technical assistance; basic skills refreshers; and writing, research, and career centers, among others. Another indicator of a strong program and strong school community is an active alumni association and regular online networking events. It’s critical that you feel properly supported and encouraged to remain motivated and moving forward as a student and engaged as a graduate.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering more than 80 online degree programs for graduates and undergraduates. Get the help you need to continue your education and advance your career goals. Earn your degree in a convenient online format that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,