Online Distance Learning Programs

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    Flexibility of Online Learning

    • An online distance learning program offers some much-needed flexibility that in-person classes lack. Most programs allow you to review materials at your own pace and on your own time, so long as you complete all the work by an assigned due date. The technology used for distance learning programs is quite advanced, so a lot of the interactivity of in-person instruction is maintained during online classes. You will likely be required to participate via chats, message boards and other social media platforms, but the time requirements of your participation will be very flexible. Of course, the specifics of the technology used, as well as the time commitment and type of required participation varies by school and program, so be sure to verify all this information prior to enrollment.

    Tuition Cost and Expenses

    • While many distance learning programs can be as expensive as traditional programs, the online path to a bachelor's or master's is generally more affordable. Furthermore, there are hidden costs associated with attending classes in person, which are not usually present if you take your degree requirements online. For example, traditional programs in business (MBA degrees) almost always require students to purchase a laptop to bring to class, while those studying online can use a desktop computer, which is significantly cheaper. Distance learning also eliminates the cost of traveling to and from campus, as well as a variety of other peripheral expenses that students incur when they attend an in-person program.

    Degree Types

    • There are as many degree options available online as there are in traditional campus settings. Choosing a degree type should depend on the student's level commitment and career goals. Bachelor's degrees (bachelor of science, bachelor of arts, bachelor of engineering) are undergraduate degrees granted to students who complete all the requirements at their respective universities. Requirements differ greatly across schools, so be sure to check the specific requirements at your university. A master's degree (master of science, master of art, master of engineering, or a master of business administration) is a graduate degree, typically consisting of 30 credits of graduate level courses in the specific type of discipline. However, some programs do require a master's thesis, which is a research paper written at the culmination of the program. Students enrolled in a master's degree program may need to fulfill certain prerequisites as part of their program, if they did not demonstrate proficiency in those subjects at the undergraduate level. The terminal degree in many fields (such as science, mathematics, and engineering) is the doctorate of philosophy degree, which in addition to advanced course requirements culminates in a dissertation written about original research performed while in the program.

    Search and Rankings

    • One of the best places to view a list of online programs is U.S. News and World Report, which lists the programs by graduate and undergraduate degree types. In addition, the U.S. News list of online programs provides enrollment information, cost, accreditation, class size limits and requirements for on-campus attendance. These lists are a good place to start a search for an online program in engineering, but it is best to follow up directly with the administration of the school to which you wish to apply, and obtain some direct information about their specific requirements and graduation rates.

    Considerations

    • Completing an online program may be just as challenging as completing a program consisting entirely of in-classroom requirements. Therefore, research the time commitment that the program you choose demands, and assess your own ability to attend online lectures, complete assignments and study the required readings. Furthermore, even distance learning programs might have an in-person component, particularly since certain types of degrees and professions (for example, such as nursing, physical therapy, or engineering) require some degree of hands-on experience. Therefore, be sure to clarify the amount of time that you will be required to spend in an in-person lab, lecture, or internship, as well as the location and time flexibility of that arrangement.

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