The Devil’s in the Details: 7 Smarter Questions to Ask Before Starting an Online Degree Program

We’ve all had that unnerving feeling when we buy something expensive.

Did I make the right decision? Did I spend too much?

Did I do all the necessary research?

Did the salesperson tell me everything?

Did I get screwed?

Think about the times you’ve bought a home. You fell in love with it during the purchase process but once you’ve moved in you start to regret all of those things that you didn’t ask about. The small (and sometimes large) things that are now costing you sanity and money. It’s called post-decision dissonance, better known as buyer’s remorse.

Most people don’t really know how to shop intelligently for higher education, and when comparing online degree programs there are a lot of ways to make bad assumptions. What’s worse is that you really don’t know enough to understand what questions to ask, so you end up trusting someone with a specific perspective – whether it’s an admissions person at the school or a friend who’s been through the process themselves.

You’ll probably (I hope) know the basics in terms of tuition costs, program formats, calendars and so forth. But to protect yourself from surprises, here are a few out of the ordinary questions you’ll want clear answers to before taking the plunge:

Will you evaluate my transfer credits before enrolling? – Always ask if the school will provide an unofficial transcript evaluation prior to enrolling. If you’re required to apply before they will review, then make sure to do so well before courses begin. Before you spend a dime on the degree, you’ll want to make sure that you have a very clear understanding of which of your prior courses will transfer and the reasons that others will not transfer. You don’t want ANY surprises.

Do you provide tuition deferral? Are you using tuition reimbursement, and if so will you get reimbursed after your grades are submitted? If money is coming out of your pocket in the interim, see if the college will delay billing until after you get reimbursed.

Do you require proctoring for exams? Some online programs will require tests to be taken using a proctor. In fact we’ve seen where some instructors require it while others do not, in the same program! This would typically mean going to the library or perhaps using a webcam to confirm your identity. It’s a real hassle if learn after the fact that you’ll have to drive to the local branch library to take tests!

What additional fees do you require, and can any be waived for online students? Believe it or not some schools automatically include student fees in online tuition, even when those fees are optional. Not planning on flying into campus for weekend football games? Then don’t pay for it! Get an itemized list of charges in advance and ask questions if any don’t seem to make sense.

Are students required to purchase textbooks from the school? Don’t get stuck buying from the bookstore if you can buy used from Amazon. Better yet, post online and see if another student will help you out with a loaner or a cheaper option.

Do you accept alternatives for pre-requisite courses? For undergrad students there are many ways to save money on a course by using alternative credit options. But if you’re in a grad program and there’s a pre-requisite course you haven’t taken do they allow for similar options? A non-business undergrad in an MBA program may face this situation. Should she have to pay $1200 for Microeconomics?

Does my residency count as credit? Another tip for grad students. Some grad programs have a weekend residency that comes up once or twice during the program. This means students travel to campus to meet instructors and other students, do projects, etc. The travel expense is one thing, but you’ll want to see if the residency also counts as credit so that you’re getting more out of it than simply a meet and greet.

These are a few of the out of the ordinary questions that aren’t typically covered in a discussion with admissions, but the questions could end up saving you a few thousand bucks and maybe even a class or two on your path to a degree.

Looking for someone to make sure you’re getting the best possible program for your situation? Get the expert who knows all the questions to ask.

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