5 questions to ask when choosing an online degree program
Consider professional relevance, accreditation and cost to find a school that meets your needs
The following is paid content sponsored by Norwich University.
By PoliceOne BrandFocus Staff
Many police officers are pursuing bachelor’s degrees online to further their careers. But with so many options now available, choosing the right degree program and institution can be a daunting task. The wrong choice could result in higher costs, or worse, a diploma that doesn’t help you advance your career.
Before you make your choice, here are five questions you should ask to help find the right online program for you.
1. Does the program match my career goals?
Earning a degree is a huge commitment of time and money, and you want to make sure you’re investing in something that will not only enrich your mind but help boost your earning potential as well.
Look for a program that offers coursework relevant to the kind of work you want to do. If you want to get into a specialized field of law enforcement, look for a program that focuses on that specialty.
For example, students in Norwich University’s online criminal justice program can choose from more than a dozen courses covering law enforcement topics ranging from immigration law and policy to narcotics and gang investigations to administration.
“Make sure that you’re on the right path by understanding how your studies will get you where you want to be,” said Michael Anton, assistant director of admissions at Norwich University’s College of Graduate and Continuing Studies.
2. Is the institution accredited?
One aspect that many people may overlook is academic accreditation, which is a quality assurance process whereby a school or program has proved that it meets academic standards and provides a quality education. State, federal and independent groups perform these assessments.
Always be sure to check the accreditation of the schools and programs you’re considering. This should be one of the most important factors in your decision-making process, said Anton, because a degree from a non-accredited school or program may not be as useful in the job market.
“Make sure that the program you pick is worth the time and the resources that you’re going to invest into it,” said Anton.
Also consider the reputation of the school. The U.S. News & World Report rankings are one place to look for this information.
3. Can I afford it?
Cost is always a factor. Grants, loans and scholarships can help, but you need to make sure you can shoulder the costs of a degree program before you enroll. Compare the costs of an online degree to future opportunities for pay raises, promotions or even a career change.
Financial aid options include federal student loans, private student loans, scholarships, Pell Grants, employer tuition assistance, military Tuition Assistance and more.
To get the most bang for your buck, look for the total price tag of a program to make sure you account for all fees. Do you have to buy books, or are course materials provided as part of the online experience? Contact the school’s financial aid office for answers and advice.
4. Can I transfer existing course credits or professional certifications?
You want to make the most of any college credit you’ve already earned. This will help cut costs and shorten the time it will take to complete your degree. Plus, it’s a good feeling to build on what you’ve already accomplished.
Some programs even offer credit for professional on-the-job training you’ve completed. For example, Norwich University takes police training and military service into account and awards credits for Peace Officer Standards and Training. This puts you a few courses ahead.
“We award transfer credit that reflects the knowledge that students have already gained from their training,” said Anton. “If they have accumulated enough training hours in a certain field or topic, we can apply it toward the program. We evaluate each individual to make sure they receive an excellent education and get the most out of their previous experience.”
Credit evaluations can also help you choose between programs. If you are able to receive more credits toward one than the other, it may be wiser to go for the shorter option.
5. How will this program help me build my professional network?
One of the most important benefits of a college degree is the boost to your personal and professional network.
Explore the websites for the programs you’re interested in. Ask the advisers what kinds of interactions you can expect with faculty, staff and your fellow students. Access to these kinds of contacts can help open doors in your career.
Also find out what sort of resources are available to alumni once you’ve earned the degree. Check out LinkedIn for alumni groups from the schools on your short list.
“The nice thing about online programs is that you are able to connect with people from across the country and even beyond,” said Anton. “We have an extensive and influential network of alumni who are always looking to make new connections. It’s a great opportunity to meet people whom you otherwise wouldn’t have had an opportunity to meet.”
Do your homework
Pursuing an online degree can be a great career move, but it’s important to make an informed choice. The five questions above should help you do your research and choose an accredited university with a solid reputation and an affordable program that feeds your career goals.