Get our weekly advice

Keep up-to-date with the latest advice from Abound Grad School.

How to Pick an Online Graduate Program

Ana-Marcela Lopez / Abound: Grad School »

Finding the graduate school of your dreams is a massive decision for any prospective graduate student. While you may have restricted your search to in-person programs, you can get the same high-quality degree in a virtual environment with a few smart choices.

Numerous top-tier graduate programs are available online, making it easier to fit your next degree into your daily schedule. However, finding the perfect online degree program has a few different requirements compared to traditional, in-person degrees.

This article will help you discover everything there is to know about online graduate schools and how to select a program that’s right for you.

Consider the Program’s Flexibility

Though there are numerous benefits to an online master’s program, you should first and foremost consider the course’s scheduling format. Many online programs don’t have set days during which the class meets online, making it flexible compared to an in-person, structured class. However, it would help to consider programs beyond this accommodation.

For instance, does the program you’re looking into have set dates and times for tests? Are there infrequent class discussions required for your grade? What is the program’s academic calendar?

If these occasional class meetings fit into your calendar, you won’t have to worry too much about an online program’s flexibility. However, if you are a full-time employee and think this program will take away from your job, look for online graduate programs that are asynchronous as long as you turn your work in on time.Adelphi University’s Director of Graduate Admissions, Michael Myers, encourages students to look for asynchronous and synchronous courses along with flexible scheduling cycles built for full-time professionals, parents, and those with additional commitments.

Have a Set Routine

Online programs aren’t meant to be any less challenging, and you should have the exact expectations for them as you would with any in-person course. When choosing a program and checking for course flexibility, consider what your routine would look like if you took this program. If the program is asynchronous with deadlines for homework, decide when you will focus your energy on your work.Online programs are just as legitimate as brick-and-mortar ones, so you should plan to take this course seriously. Before selecting a program, create a realistic routine to avoid feeling overwhelmed right before the program starts.

Make Sure the Program is Credible

Choosing the right master’s program is a big deal that comes with a lot of pressure. Before deciding on an online program, you must double-check that the program and degree are credible.

Credibility is one thing that holds many people back from pursuing a master’s degree. Whether you’re afraid of a scam or a future employer not taking your institution seriously, it is crucial to ensure that a program is renowned and properly accredited. The U.S. Department of Education keeps an updated list of all academic institutions that pass the rigorous requirements for accreditation.“When it comes to choosing a school for graduate studies,” says Nate Watson, Assistant Vice President of Lindenwood University’s Global Strategic Enrollment Management, “Regional Accreditation ensures that an institution’s programs have rigorous quality standards. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation is an excellence resource for researching an Institution’s standing with their accrediting body.”

Check the Library Resources

A course is only as good as its resources. If your courses require essays and extensive research, you should ensure that the institution offers online students access to the necessary resources. Online library databases vary by institution, and looking for extensive resources that aren’t locked behind a paywall can help you decide on one program over another.

Set Realistic Expectations

Many students have lower expectations for online programs compared to in-person programs. If you are going into your search looking for a program that looks “easy” compared to the rest, you might have some unrealistic expectations that could harm you in the long run. Understand that whatever program you choose will be as intensive as an in-person program and should be taken just as seriously.

Know the Costs and Fees

Online programs will have prices and fees just like any in-person course. You might choose an online program because it looks cheaper than an in-person program on the surface level, only to discover that the fees for textbooks, courses, and other course materials are above your price range. Check all the costs and fees of any program before deciding to attend. At Adelphi University, students are encouraged to speak with the One-Stop Student Services Center to review program tuition and fees along with aid opportunities.

Check on Student Resources

Aside from library resources, you should check an online program for other student resources. For instance, double-check that the institution of your choice has easy access to faculty members who can help you whenever you have an essential question. Additionally, consider programs that offer other forms of support for their students, such as counseling or tutoring services.

Know Your Career Goals

Understand the reason behind why you want to take an online master’s program. Before pursuing further education, you should consider your career goals and expectations and whether the time and financial commitments are reasonable. Going into a master’s program without knowing what you want to gain from it might not give you the intellectual return you’re hoping to find.

Once you know your career goals, determine whether or not an online program will help you achieve them. For example, if you want to pursue a master’s in a business-related field, consider how accredited the institution is for business degrees.Nate Watson from Lindenwood University continues: “If you are ready to take the plunge but are having a difficult time choosing between career paths, ask your enrollment representative for help. A good university enrollment department will have staff who are well-trained in the programs offered, their various nuances, and the associated career outcomes. They can help provide critical guidance and recommendations, and even connect prospective students with faculty as a part of the decision process.”

Find a School That Supports Online Students

While online courses are just as legitimate as in-person courses, some institutions won’t treat them that way. Therefore, when you’ve narrowed your options down to a few choices, find as much information as possible about resources for online vs. in-person students.

You should feel as respected and valued as any on-campus student, even when taking an online course. Making your final decision for an online graduate program requires that you find the same level of respect as you would if you were taking an in-person class.

“It is easy to choose an option based simply on cost,” says Andy Modlin, Sr. Associate Vice President for Graduate Studies at High Point University. “But take the time to do your homework to find an online program that will provide personal connections and mentorship with faculty who care about you, the flexibility to fit with your lifestyle and hands-on, real-world experiences that prepare you to become a leader to get the most value from your graduate education.”

Know the Requirements

Before applying for an online course, ensure that you meet all the requirements to make it into the program. And remember that having requirements is a two-way street; the program you opt for should meet your personal standards just as much as the institution’s requirements.

Bottom Line

Whatever program you choose, it’s crucial to find the best fit for your expectations and skills. Finding resources and unique opportunities for supporting your educational and professional growth is possible through the numerous resources offered by Abound: Grad School.

Abound: Grad School helps students like you find the right institution to further your education. Abound: Grad School understands that the quality of your education isn’t just about how famous the institution’s name is but how suitable it is for your needs.

Get our weekly advice

Keep up-to-date with the latest advice from Abound Grad School.