how to choose an online degree programEnrolling in an online course can be confusing. How do you know what you want to study? How do you know which school is best for you? How do you know if you afford it or if it will help your career? Luckily, helpful resources abound online to help you make an educated decision.

The following is a simple seven-step process to help you determine which programs you might want to look into and if an online degree program is right for you:

1. Start with a career field.

Most people know what career they are interested in pursuing. This is a good place to start when you are trying to choose a program, since most programs are built around specific career fields. For example, if you know you want to become a computer programmer, you will want to look into computer science or information systems programs.

If you don’t know what you want to do–but you know what you like doing–take a look at this handy tool from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. In this tool, on each occupation page, look for the ‘How to become…’ section. That will tell you what the requirements (degrees, licenses, etc.) are for the career you’re interested in.

2. Make a list of the schools that offer online programs in your career field.

Once you’ve chosen a career field, you will notice that there are plenty of online degree programs to choose from. So it’s not a question of if there’s a program out there, but of which program best fits your needs.

To get started, make a list of all the available programs in your degree of interest. ClassesAndCareers.com can be an easy way to get this list. Just go to their homepage and navigate to the career that most interests you. On these pages you will find a list of programs in your career field from a number of schools. Add these programs to your list.

3. Narrow down the programs.

Don’t take the first one you see. You want to make sure the one you get is right for you. Here’s what you want to ask yourself as you try to narrow down your options:

Why am I interested in taking this program?
How will this program help me in my education and/or career?
Do I need this program to improve my education and/or career?

If you determine that a program won’t really help you, don’t be afraid to cross it off your list. You will be putting a lot of time and money into the program you choose, so be very picky. Ideally, you want to end up with two or three programs that you feel good about.

4. Submit your contact information to those schools.

Fortunately, letting schools know you’re interested is the easy part. On ClassesAndCareers.com, you need only click on the ‘Request Info’ button next to the program you’re interested. This will take you to a quick form where you can tell the school what you’re looking for and how to reach you. Schools will have similar forms on their websites. Fill out the form and wait for a school enrollment specialist to contact you.

5. Talk with a school enrollment specialist.

The schools you submitted your information to will call you to determine your fit for the programs you’re interested in and answer your questions. Remember, just because you’re talking to them, it doesn’t mean you have to enroll with them. You’re still shopping around, so make sure you get answers to all your questions. Find out how much your program will cost, how much time it will require, and what services the school offers to help you in your classes and in finding a job afterward.

Do not agree to anything unless you feel comfortable with the enrollment specialist’s answers to these questions. If a school doesn’t answer these questions to your satisfaction, don’t be afraid to cross them off your list. School is too costly and time-consuming to settle for something you’re not comfortable with.

6. Honestly evaluate how important this program is to you and how much you can dedicate to it.

By this point, you’re probably down to one or two schools. Before you decide to enroll, hang up the phone and look at your options. Ask yourself these important questions:

How will I pay for this program? Will I be able to pay back any debt I might take on to pay for this program?
Do I have the time in my schedule to be successful in this program?
Am I reasonably certain this program will allow me to achieve my career goals?
What other options might I have other than this program?

If you couldn’t answer these problems positively, then consider your options again. It’s not always the best time to go back to school–sometimes you need to wait for your health, financial, or work situation to change in order for school to make sense for you.

Again, don’t be afraid to walk away if you don’t feel comfortable with the obligations that would come with an online degree program. If you can honestly say that you are comfortable with these obligations, congratulations! You’re ready to enroll…

7. Follow directions to enroll.

The enrollment process will be different for every school. Once you’re ready, contact the enrollment specialist. He or she will walk you through the process of becoming an official online student.

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