Advancements in modern technology have led to many educational institutes offering online degree programs as a standard. The market for online students is densely crowded today, many of whom have a day job while striving hard to add academic credentials to their resumes.

How do you know if the program you’re choosing is a safe bet and offers good value for money? In your journey to pursue a better education, consider these factors before picking your online college or university.

Regional Accreditation

Accreditation is an absolute must when it comes to criteria for choosing an online degree program. Regional accreditation for a learning institute is considered the highest academic honor in the US.

This credential is necessary as it ensures that the degree or certification you receive from the institution meets quality standards for faculty, governance, curriculum, student services, as well as financial stability and many others. Apart from quality assurance, regional accreditation also counts since students attending such programs are able to receive federal student aid. In addition, course credits can also be easily transferred between regionally accredited institutions.

More: How to Choose the Right Online Education Program

Online Universities: Separating The Good From The Bad

Positive Student Experience

The best online programs propagate a positive and supportive environment in which the students as well as staff and faculty thrive. Just because you’re taking virtual classes doesn’t mean that interaction between you and your peers and faculty members should be amiss from the experience.

An online education setting should boast a rich and interactive experience – as engaging as you would expect in a regular, land-based institution. This might be surprising but students who have gone through both the standard and virtual classroom experience say that virtual classes exposed them to student insights from a variety of backgrounds and cultures that they didn’t experience otherwise.

The university you’re considering, does it have an established learning community? How about the delivery method; does it make use of robust communications? Is group participation encouraged and facilitated? Are the faculty members accessible? These are all very legitimate questions you should be asking yourself. The institution you’re attending should also have content that caters well to the adult online learner. It should not only challenge you as a learner, but also facilitate interacting with others.

Support Services

How do support services optimize the virtual education experience? The institution has to have committed and knowledgeable academic advisors who know how to act as a guiding beacon throughout the program. The quality of the online library should be topnotch, as should be their ability to communicate well with students and the faculty. How is the sense of community between the students and administration? Your chosen institution ought to offer 24 hour support along with a personalized service.

Even though you’re an independent learner, you should not have to feel isolated from your peers and faculty members. It’s always good to ask about the kind of interactions to be expected. The school or university should also be 100% committed to your professional grooming; you chose them because you wish to advance in your specialized field.

Extensive career development services of a school ensure that your educational achievements are always in line with your professional aims and aspirations.

More: 5 Things to Consider When Choosing an Online Degree Program

Cost of Education and Financial Aid Options

Since land-based universities are supported by their respective states, online university tuition is relatively more expensive. This higher cost can be attributed to hiring experienced faculty specifically for the online learner, including the infrastructure that’s needed to support online learning. Naturally, you’d be paying more as you’re getting the flexibility and convenience of such an education, which also explains the offset.

If you ever come across a school where costs are unusually low, you must make sure it is accredited and has an experienced and high-caliber staff in place. Another key thing to consider: you must have more than adequate financial aid options at your disposal. Your school must accept transfer credit, credit by exam, or prior learning credit that might reduce costs.

You see, with the right combo – loans, grants, tuition assistance etc. – you’re going to discover that earning a degree while advancing your career, is in fact, financially feasible.