How Online Degree Programs Work

online degrees student

By Sindya Narayanaswamy

You may be interested in going back to school to gain new career skills, but are concerned about the time-consuming campus schedule that keeps you from your job or family. The development and sophistication of online learning helps ease this burden by offering advanced, high quality online degrees.

Thanks to these cutting-edge programs, you can log in, access study/lecture and testing materials, converse with peers and professors, utilize advanced support resources and manage your day-to-day lifestyle at the same time.

While you listen to your professor lecture live over the Internet, a chat box is always open so you can type in any questions you may have. The professor receives your questions immediately on his or her computer, and can react in real time. Your fellow classmates, who could be anywhere from Anchorage to Albania, are all doing the same thing you are.

What about projects and interactive assignments?

Most students set up "appointments" with their group members to meet online, chat about the project and divide up tasks. Usually, group presentations are done via PowerPoint or a similar tool. You "present" your project to the class via chat or, if you have microphone facilities, with audio or video feeds.

Online degree classrooms are one of the most exciting and innovative opportunities in education today. The 2011 Sloan Consortium survey reports that enrollment rose by almost one million students from the year earlier.

Benefits of an Online Degree Program

The Distance Education and Training Council (DETC) is regarded as the standard-setting organization for distance education programs. Nearly every school that responded to their annual survey revealed that they were designing new online courses and/or experimenting with online course design. An online degree can offer you the enrichment and knowledge that you are seeking, while offering you significant benefits that are not available with traditional schooling. Some of these benefits are as follows:

  • Flexibility - If a course is asynchronous, where recorded lectures are provided online, you can take things at your own pace and complete assignments at your convenience. If it is a live, or synchronous class, the lectures will be at fixed times.
  • Convenience - When it's time for class, you don't need to send the kids to a baby sitter, worry about commuting during rush hour, or factor transportation time and costs into your budget. You'll be working from the comfort of your home computer.
  • Cost and Timing - Many students complete their online degrees more quickly than with conventional classes. This can reduce your education costs and help you reach your goals faster. Oppositely, if you need to pace your lifestyle and take your education more slowly, online learning may be a perfect solution.

What It Takes to Earn an Online Degree

It is important to understand what it takes to be a successful online student. Consider whether this is the right choice for you. Here are the three 'C's' for being successful:

  • Concentration - You won't have anyone telling you when to study. If you lack the focus to hit the books of your own accord, this might not be for you.
  • Communication - Keep in mind that as an online student, you are not likely to meet your fellow classmates or your professor. This means that you must be able to communicate well through writing and e-mails. Chances are that you will have to do group work and projects with classmates.
  • Computer Savvy - You will be doing all your work on a computer. You'll have to get comfortable with the Internet, and be able to launch and use software programs such as RealPlayer, Microsoft Word and Excel. Having a computer handy is paramount, so you must either own one or have ready access to one.


If you decide to pursue an online degree, be careful about the program you pick. There are many "diploma mills" out there where you can essentially purchase a piece of paper with your name on it. It means nothing; don't fall for it. There are over 400 diploma mills on the Internet, and their degrees are not accredited and no employer will recognize them.

The key is to make sure you pick an accredited school and program. Accreditation means that the programs offered and the degrees granted by a school are in compliance with the U.S. Department of Education and state authorization boards. To earn accreditation, schools must meet various teaching and charter standards, and the curriculum must be authenticated by an accreditation board or secretary. Accreditation is important in that you must have an accredited degree to pursue many careers and forms of financial aid.

You can verify a school's accreditation status by checking with the U.S. Department of Education website or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

Read more about online school accreditation.

Financial Aid

Many companies encourage employees to pursue online degrees part-time or enroll in relevant courses. Often, if your grade is satisfactory, you will be reimbursed for your expenses. Check with your employer to see if they can cover your tuition costs.

It is also possible to obtain government student loans for any degree that is accredited by the government. This includes online degrees. Read more about innovative ways to finance your online education.

Getting Started

These days, online college degree programs offer a much more flexible option than part-time or evening school. You can get virtually any degree from your own home, behind the screen of your own computer. The online degree is become increasingly more valued by companies today. Employers recognize that online degrees provide real, tangible skills that are critical to the work place.

If an online degree program is a good fit for your personality and lifestyle, it might be a very rewarding option and a stepping stone to a better, higher-paying career!