To Put This in Context:
According to the Babson Survey Research Group, the number of students and universities participating in online education is at an all-time high, and it is expected to continue growing in the coming years.  Some of the most prestigious schools in the U.S. now offer online degrees or hybrid courses that are a mix of online and on-campus, but there are still many important factors you may want to consider before enrolling. Below we address five of the biggest questions potential students often have about online learning.
1. How do I know if online education is right for me?
Because every student and online program is different, determining if online education is right for you can be tricky. Important considerations include program availability, your individual learning style, and your professional aspirations. Self-motivation, time management, and your computer competency are other key factors. Many colleges and universities have built online quizzes or assessments to help you decide, including this one from Minnesota State. 
Want more insight? Discover the truth about some of the common myths associated with studying online.
2. How long will it take to complete an online program?
There are many factors that determine how long it will take to complete a program. The length of time to completion for online degrees varies by school, field of study, course load, your current level of education, and whether you have any transfer credits to apply. Depending on if you choose to attend part-time or full-time, some online master’s degrees can be completed in as few as 18 months, while other programs take two or three years to finish. Online bachelor’s degrees can range from two to four years to complete.
3. What financial aid is available for online education?
When attending a traditional university, the same financial aid is available regardless of whether you attend online or on campus. There are many types of financial aid available, including scholarships, grants, and student loans. To help determine your eligibility, view the U.S. Department of Education’s eligibility list, and be sure to confirm what types of aid are available with your school.  If you’re a veteran or currently serving, many of your GI Bill benefits can be applied to online programs, so check with your school’s financial aid department and visit the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs GI Bill page to determine your eligibility. 
Tuition assistance can vary in amount, and you can learn more with our guide to maximizing your financial aid.
4. What will an online classroom environment be like?
How will you engage with your professor or interact with other students? Every school and degree program is different, but some classes have scheduled times when the entire class meets online (synchronous), similar to an on-campus course. Other programs allow students to watch the professor’s weekly lecture on their own time (asynchronous). Many require students to participate in weekly class discussions through online message boards. Just like their on-campus equivalents, most online courses will have office hours when students are able to schedule a chat or email questions directly to their professors. It’s this level of direct engagement that helps many online students stay focused and achieve success.
5. How do I know an online program is credible?
The best way to make sure an online degree is credible is to check the college or university’s accreditation, which is often listed on the program’s web page. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a running list of accredited universities.  Many programs have additional accreditation from professional accrediting agencies like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE) for nursing degrees or the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) for business degrees.   Lastly, the Higher Learning Commission (HLC) has accredited more than 1,000 institutions and has a searchable online database. 
Have more questions?
These are only a few of the initial questions you may have when considering a future in online education, and you can continue to explore similar topics on the Context blog. Learn why millions of students prefer online learning to traditional on-campus programs, or if you’re interested in earning your master’s degree, discover four online graduate programs that can pay off.