If you are thinking about enrolling in an online school to pursue a degree or certification, how do you know which school to pick? There are many schools available in the U.S. that offer fully online programs and many of the programs they advertise on their websites seem very similar. If more than one school is offering an online degree in business administration how do you find the right online school for you? Keep reading for our list of five things you should take a look at closely to help you find the right school. We’ve made these into tests… not for you, but for you to test the school. If they pass the test, then add the school to your consideration list!
- The Social Media Test
Social media can be a powerful tool for actively participating in your learning community. For example, you can become an active member of your school or program Facebook group. Within the group, you can find study partners (in-person or virtual), meet new people, grow your professional network, and get help with questions or advice. This extends to many other social networks, including Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, and Twitter. So the first part of the test is whether or not your school has a presence on these networks. Next, you should post a quick question in one of these groups or forums. How quickly, if at all, do you get a reply from another student, alumnus, or staff member? If you do not receive a timely reply or the school doesn’t have a presence, you may want to cross the school off your list. Not having a vibrant social and professional networking community may mean the school is behind the times and not properly positioned to support new technologies and communication channels.
- The Live Chat Test
Using the telephone for technical support or student support seems to be a generational preference. Boomers still prefer the plain old phone call, whereas GenX tends to prefer chat, and Millenials and their younger counterparts, Gen Zers, tend to prefer SMS (text messaging.) So, based upon your preference, test the school’s ability to handle your inquiry. If you prefer live chat, does your school even offer support through chat? How long do you have to wait to get a live person on the other end, and what hours is this service offered? If you will be studying late at night or on the weekends, but chat is only offered from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday thru Friday, that’s not very helpful. The same goes for phone and SMS support. If it is not available, or not available during the times you’ll need it, then this might not be the right school for you.
- The Career Services Test
Does your school offer a full suite of career services support? Use this general checklist of common services you should receive from a robust career services department:
- Résumé preparation
- Interview attire and preparation
- Mock/practice interviews
- How to speak to your strengths and transferable skills
- Answering tough interview questions
- Completing job applications
- Applying military and classroom experience in place of job experience
- Interacting with recruiters
- Transitioning from a student to a full-time employee
- Office professionalism
- Balancing your schedule between work and life
- Preparing a Graduate portfolio with each student for the Job interview process
If your school does not offer all these services, do you still feel confident you can land a job after graduation?
- The After Hours Test
In the live chat test, above, we suggested testing out the channel of communication you prefer (phone, email, chat, SMS, etc.) As we mentioned, it is important that the school of your choice be able to support you where you feel most comfortable. Similarly, if your school is not available or open when you need them, you could be out of luck if you get stuck on an assignment, registration issue, financial aid matter, or technical problem. A simple way to test this is to contact the school through multiple channels (phone, chat, email, etc.) and determine whether you can get ahold of a live person for a helpful response in a timely manner. If your school doesn’t have extended hours for the evenings and weekends, it may not be the right school for you if you plan on studying during non-traditional times.
- The Personalized Test
Perhaps one of the most important aspects of your online education will be your ability to interact with instructors and staff on a 1:1 basis. For example, if you need a little bit of extra help with a specific topic, can you connect with your instructor on the phone, in the online classroom, or via FaceTime? What if you need extra preparation for a big job interview, can you schedule 30 minutes with an interview coach over FaceTime to show her what you are wearing for the interview and to ask you some prep questions? Just because you are attending school online, doesn’t mean you should go without personalized 1:1 time with the school. So, make sure that your school offers these services before you enroll.
Make Your School Work For You
Summing it all up, when you are searching for the right school, make sure that your school of choice passes these five tests. Your school of choice should work hard to help you succeed. After all, you are working hard and paying for your education. Make it count. But, choose wisely! While many schools may seem alike because they offer similar online programs, when you look at them closer and make them pass these five tests, you may be able to separate the best schools from the pack. Ask the tough questions before you enroll!