The Real Thing: Identifying A Legitimate Online Degree Program

With the changing economy and job cuts happening throughout the country, many people are changing careers or starting their own businesses. As people seek to enlarge their knowledge base, or begin work in a new field, online learning is hotter than ever. Online degrees offer the convenience and flexibility working adults need to pursue their education while they continue to work. However, it is best to exercise caution and good judgement when choosing an online school or degree program if you want to make sure it will actually improve your marketability. Here are the top three things a potential student in an online degree program should look for.

1) Check the School’s Accreditation
The U. S. Department of Education provides a list of legitimate accrediting organizations for distance learning on its website, When choosing a school and degree program, be diligent about researching the accreditation. Is the school accredited by a real, established agency? If not, choose another school. Don’t be fooled by a fancy website or impressive claims (like “licensed by the state”). Always do the research to avoid problems down the line. Degrees or diplomas from non-accredited schools are invalid and are of little true benefit to the student (or their earning potential!).

2) Examine the Program
Before committing to a school and forking over money for tuition, evaluate the curriculum of your chosen degree program. How are the classes structured? How much time is allotted to complete class work? How does it compare to other well respected programs in the field? Also, look at the faculty teaching the classes. How many of these faculty members have advanced or terminal degrees in the field they are teaching? More than anything, students should make sure that the class material will be presented in a way that works for them and their individual learning style.

3) Check For Outrageous Claims
Be wary of schools that promise to award degrees in unreasonably short periods of time. If a school offers degrees in days instead of months, this is generally a sign of a diploma mill. Legitimate schools will not award degrees in short periods of time, or based solely on life experience. Also, if advanced degrees or honors are available for a fee, this is a sure sign of a diploma mill. These outfits are not legitimate schools, and any degree purchased from them will be worthless. Diploma mills are fraudulent businesses and they are only out to make money.

Online learning has its pitfalls, but they can be easily avoided. With a bit of diligence and research, finding the right online school and degree program is possible. As long as students take the time necessary to evaluate the school before sending any money or personal information, online learning can be the convenient, rewarding experience it was meant to be.

Thomas Masterson is a career advisor who contributes content for, a website that provides college rankings, reviews and a comprehensive list of the best online schools of 2012.

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