The Internet has created wonderful opportunities for countless students to take advantage of distance learning opportunities. Online colleges and universities offer excellent educations to working adults, the disabled, and those who need to study with flexible hours. These online classes also offer a substantial savings over the cost of attending a traditional "bricks and mortar" school, since there is no cost for room and board and lower expenses for staffing and transportation needs.
The down side is that there are also many "diploma mills" on the Internet. These are scams that pose as reputable schools but are selling worthless pieces of paper instead of offering real diplomas. They don't provide a real education. They simply take your money. If you want a genuine education, be sure you are enrolling at one of the many excellent online colleges that will give you a thorough education.
There are several things you should look for in determining whether an online program is legitimate. Unrealistic promises are a bad sign. No reputable college will promise that you can graduate with a degree in a matter of weeks. At the very least, a degree program should take 18 months to complete. A good program also won't promise that you can graduate no matter what. Remember, you should have to work for your degree. Paying a fee shouldn't be enough.
Look for accreditation, and then verify. Colleges and universities are accredited by various organizations. Check carefully to see who the accrediting agency is, and then confirm that it is legitimate. If an online school tells you that it is "only a formality", or that they don't need accreditation because they are an online school, don't waste your time and money.
Six regional accrediting bodies that are reliable include the Middle State Association of Colleges and Schools, the New England Association of Schools and College, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools, the Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. It's well worth it to take the time to visit their websites.
Accreditation programs for U.S. schools should be located within the U.S. In recent years, some diploma mills have gotten around their lack of credentials by seeking accreditation in third world countries with low educational standards. If it doesn't make sense to you, there's a reason. A school in Montana with accreditation from a small island in the Caribbean isn't likely to offer you a solid education. As always, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Look for the school's contact information. A good school will offer you several ways to contact them. If a website doesn't offer a street address and phone number, they may be hiding something. A school that is open and honest will want to offer you every opportunity to talk to their admissions staff and faculty. If the only thing they have is an online form to fill out, you should definitely be suspicious.
Research the curriculum. When you look at the websites for online schools, check out the various programs that are offered. You should be able to look at some examples of the classes that are offered. Sample coursework will give you an idea of the variety of classes and how in-depth your education will be. If there is no mention on the website of required classes or the amount of work you will be expected to complete, there is a problem.
Learn about the faculty and staff. Online colleges and universities are generally quite proud of their instructors. They will have biographies, photos and contact information for at least some of their instructors on the school's website. If you can't find the names of any instructors, it might be because there aren't any.
Compare the school's size-to-major ratio. There are many outstanding online schools that are relatively small, and these will generally offer a limited number of degrees that they specialize in. What you don't want to see is a small school that offers hundreds of diploma options. After all, it's not possible to be teaching all of those classes if the school is very small. It's a tip-off that they may simply be selling you a piece of paper. If you take the proper precautions, you can find an excellent, reputable online college or university that will give you a solid education. In the end, it will award you with a diploma that you've truly earned and that you can be proud of.