The 5 Most Important Tips for Online Degree Research

The 5 Most Important Tips for Online Degree Research

online degree research
When we founded ClearDegree, it was in part because of one word – opacity. Opacity basically means lacking transparency, and that’s something that is a major problem for consumers of higher education, particularly for working adults and online higher ed.

We’re all used to dealing with opacity when buying things like a used car, which led to the creation of tools like Carfax or companies like Carmax, bringing a level of transparency to the buying process.

At ClearDegree we do the same for individuals and employees looking for an online degree. However, we’ll be the first to tell you – if you have the time, patience and knowledge to do your own research you absolutely should!

As a matter of fact, here are 5 of the most important things to do when researching an online degree on your own.

1. Keep an open mind

Probably the biggest mistake people make is limiting their choices when looking for a degree. They go with a local brand or an ad they heard on the radio or ‘advice’ from a friend or colleague. There are over 17,000 online degree programs of all types offered across the country along with great international programs. Take advantage of your options! There are enough hidden diamonds out there to find your perfect fit so you won’t have to settle.

2. Remember to follow the money

Now that your mind is open you’re ready to start searching online. Type in “online MBA in marketing” or maybe “bachelor’s degree in HR” and you’ll see pages of results for both schools and from sites with names like “” These sites seem like a terrific way to see lots of schools at once – but is there’s a catch? Is the site pay to play, research-based or both? Make sure that Sponsored or Featured schools are clearly listed, and if not make sure there are lots of public and private non-profits included. If not then it’s just a pay to play lead-generation site. Sites such as are examples of directory sites that aren’t biased towards sponsored or paid listings.

And what of sites with rankings, are they based on specific criteria? Do their criteria match yours? Their #1 criteria may be average GMAT score, but your #1 may be waiving the GMAT.

3. Old news is bad news

You’ve decided the best way to avoid getting suckered is to use school sites or state/federal directories. Great idea but watch out for stale info. Make sure the school website is up to date on things like program options, pricing, curriculum and faculty. One school we spoke this month had 5 degree concentrations described on their website. We learned that back in Dec they had decided to remove all of the concentrations and moved to a generic program. When in doubt find the school’s most recent or upcoming official catalog, which by statute must be up to date.

This goes double for government sites like College Navigator, sites fed by Navigator or state sites. These sites can be over a year out of date, and I would only use them for top-level research (which will still miss a lot of options).

4. Watch out for apples and oranges

School A has a bachelors program for $365 per credit hour. School B is only $300 per credit hour; what a steal! What you didn’t know is that School B is on a quarter hour system, which means their program is 180 credit hours instead of 120 – over $10,000 more! The schools you’re comparing may seem similar, but do they have the same structure for additional fees (per semester, per class, per credit hour), the same textbook policy (included, extra, extra through the school only), similar course load (twelve 3-credit classes vs. nine 4-credit classes), class length (14 weeks/2 at a time vs. 7 weeks/1 at a time) and so on?

In other words, it’s not just apples and oranges, it’s Fuji vs. Gala and Valencia vs. Navel.

5. Dig Deeper

You’re down to a handful of schools for a bachelor’s degree in HR. You have a lot of useful and accurate information from the website and the admissions rep told you what you want to hear. What are you leaving on the table? Have you put together a degree plan to include alternative credits like CLEP or Straighterline or ACE? What credits or prior learning (via work) will the school accept and what will it save you in tuition? If your kids are gone for a few weeks this Summer at camp can you double up your classes?

How about someone looking for a Master’s degree? Are you checking into the details of the curriculum? Maybe you’re not a huge fan of group work but love video lectures; have you looked at the syllabi for your classes to see what they require?

Getting your degree, no matter what your age, is one of the biggest investments of your life. Make sure you’re asking ALL the right questions.

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