How to Choose Accredited Self Paced Online Colleges & Degrees

Self-paced online degrees are becoming increasingly popular and for good reason. These online universities allow students to attend either full or part time, and to attend their classes as their schedules allow.

Through these programs, students are able to set their own schedule for completing courses, rather than having to follow the timetable set by the school. It is particularly popular among working professionals, who require a greater degree of flexibility if they are to complete an educational program. Self-paced online colleges offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as graduate certificates.

While there are some schools that require students to attend school a few times during the program, the vast majority is done completely in the student's’ own time.

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*Featured Self Paced Online Colleges

  • Choose from over 200 online graduate & undergraduate programs offered by non-profit, accredited, Southern New Hampshire University. NO GMAT or GRE required! SNHU has a tradition of excellence and a proven success rate – 95 percent of their students are employed upon graduation. Get Free Info from Southern New Hampshire University.
  • Liberty University offers dozens of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in many fields, with a focus on religious and divinity studies. The university also has a law school, a school of osteopathic medicine and a school of education. Fully accredited! No GRE or GMAT required for most degree programs. Ranked by US News and World Report. Largest private university online. Get Free Info from Liberty University.
  • Walden University offers hundreds of Doctoral, Masters and Bachelors degrees. Ideal for busy adults. Ranked #19 as Best College for Adult Learners by Washington Monthly. Online students in over 145 countries! Get FREE Info from Walden University.
*Indicates partner school


Introduction to Online Colleges

Distance learning is nothing new. In fact, in 1906 there were more than 900,000 students enrolled in an organization known International Correspondence Schools, which is now known now as Penn Foster (Forbes, 2015). If almost a million people were taking distance courses at the beginning of the 20th century, then clearly the appeal of increasing knowledge while remaining right at home has appealed to humans for a long time.

In the current age, this desire has only grown, especially as more people have access to higher education but lack the ability to finish due to time, finances or some other circumstance.

For instance, there are nearly 40 million Americans who have some college education but have not completed their degree, Forbes estimates (2015). The obvious conclusion here is that far more people value higher education than are able to leverage its benefits for themselves by completing a program. At least partially in response to this underserved population, the world saw an explosion of online degree programs in the early 2000s, continuing into the present day.

As of 2016, the number of online students has grown to 5.8 million nationally, or one in four students overall, reports Online Learning Consortium (2016). Of those, almost half – 2.6 million students – were enrolled in fully online programs, while others also took some on-campus classes, reports Inside Higher Ed (2014).

And while confidence in the value of online learning has dropped ever so slightly among higher education faculty, the numbers are mostly accounted for by the smallest colleges, who have the most to gain from students appearing on campus. “The change of opinion among the small institutions that no longer have aspirations to add online courses and/or programs will have no impact on the distance education universe,” says the 2015 Online Report Card – Tracking Online Education in the United States.

Online learning is here to stay. Considering the benefits it offers in financial savings, flexibility and self-paced learning, it’s no wonder more and more students are electing to complete their educations online. Before you choose to do so yourself, though, it’s important you make the right choice of program, then proceed carefully through your education to ensure you get the most out of it at the end.

Select the Right Online College Program

Select the Right Online College Program

According to some estimates, more than 23,000 degree programs from which to choose exist (Guide to Online Schools, 2017).

Unlike traditional schools, for which you have to move to a specific location, many of these programs can be completed from anywhere. That gives you a lot more choice when it comes to schools, which can be intimidating.

So how do you even get started picking one?

First, it’s all about which schools offer the right program for you.

Common degree programs that can be fully completed online include:

  • Business Administration
  • Accounting
  • Psychology
  • Communications
  • Criminal Justice
  • Marketing
  • Healthcare Administration
  • Computer Science
  • Human Services
  • Social Work
  • Public Health

Your interests will dictate which you choose. Other programs commonly completed online include Nursing, for instance, and Social Work, but these have an in-person element since you will be working so heavily with people in your career. Your choice of program will thus depend on whether or not you have the ability to go to a physical location.

*Featured Self Paced Online Colleges

  • Choose from over 200 online graduate & undergraduate programs offered by non-profit, accredited, Southern New Hampshire University. NO GMAT or GRE required! SNHU has a tradition of excellence and a proven success rate – 95 percent of their students are employed upon graduation. Get Free Info from Southern New Hampshire University.
  •  Liberty University offers dozens of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in many fields, with a focus on religious and divinity studies. The university also has a law school, a school of osteopathic medicine and a school of education. Fully accredited! No GRE or GMAT required for most degree programs. Ranked by US News and World Report. Largest private university online. Get Free Info from Liberty University.
  • Walden University offers hundreds of Doctoral, Masters and Bachelors degrees. Ideal for busy adults. Ranked #19 as Best College for Adult Learners by Washington Monthly. Online students in over 145 countries! Get FREE Info from Walden University.
*Indicates partner school

Cost is one of the biggest factors as well. Out-of-state tuition at public universities averages $24,930 and private school tuition averages $33,480 (College Data, 2017). The average cost of an online program, however, is considerably cheaper. For instance, tuition for one year of an online program at a Florida school costs $16,580 compared to a year of on-campus tuition at the same school, which is $28,588, says Affordable Colleges Online (2017).

In a survey conducted by The Learning House, 44% of online students reported improvements in their employment standing, for example by obtaining a full-time job within 12 months of graduation, and 45% reported a salary increase.

Other costs beyond tuition also accrue when you go to school in a physical environment. The estimated cost of food for those who travel to campus, for instance, is $4,230, while going to school from home would only total $960 on average (Affordable Colleges Online). Moreover, transportation drops from $1,100 if you have to show up on campus to a mere $130 for those who can attend lectures and complete their work from anywhere. That means that the mere act of deciding to attend school online guarantees savings compared to in-person education.

There is one exception to this, and that is attending a public university in your state of residence, where tuition costs only $9,650. If you are able to, you should consider enrolling at your local public university, then taking distance education courses. Many larger universities in both urban and rural settings allow students to enroll online, view lectures online, submit coursework online and then come to campus for brief in-person classes or meetings with professors. This can be much more affordable.

Beware that not every online degree program is a great investment.

In order to distinguish between programs that are worth it and those that aren’t, first take a look at whether the program is non-profit or for-profit. If it’s a non-profit institution, then typically there is a campus-based body that comprises the bulk of that institution – for instance, a public university that has a distance education arm. These online programs typically adhere to the standards of the university, which are typically well-established and therefore high.

However, the majority of online degree programs are for-profit. That’s perfectly fine in and of itself, and many online universities offer comprehensive degree programs comparable with university degrees. However, not all for-profit universities are so beneficial. As the moniker implies, for-profit universities are for profit, meaning they expect to make money off of the tuition students pay. That makes those programs commodities, which creates the danger that at least some of these programs will prioritize profits over student learning.

Public institutions command the largest portion of distance education students, with 72.7%  of all undergraduate and 38.7% of all graduate‐level distance students. (2015 Survey of Online Learning conducted by the Babson Survey Research Group)

The best way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to make sure the program has been accredited. If not, it’s almost certainly a for-profit institution trying to make money off of you, but guaranteeing no real value to the degree. It’s awful to find out after spending money that employers don’t think your education was worth anything, so always check.

Once you’ve chosen a degree program you think will work for you, it’s time to make a sensible plan for completing it over the long haul. That way, as you move through the coursework month by month and year by year, you’ll stay on track, complete the requirements on time and work toward your new career quickly.

Key Metrics to Evaluate Online Programs

Key Metrics to Evaluate Online Programs

As you are evaluating online degree programs, there are several important factors to consider. It is critical to select the best college for your needs so that you get the most for your educational dollar. Key metrics to consider include the following:

School Accreditation

Accreditation of the university is vital because it tells you that the school has met high quality standards by a respected accreditation agency. This tells both you and potential employers that the education you received has value.

The online college you are considering should be accredited by an accreditation body that is recognized by the US Department of Education. The six regional accreditation agencies that you should look for are:

  • Higher Learning Commission
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Northwest Accreditation Commission
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges

Your university should state on its website and literature that it is regionally accredited by one of these bodies.

Program Accreditation

It also is important to verify that the online program that you are considering has been accredited by a respected accreditation body. Most major subject areas have respected program accreditation bodies that accredit online programs in that specialty.

For example, in business programs, such as MBA, the most respected accreditation body in the world is the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). If you are attending an online MBA program and it is accredited by the AACSB, you can have confidence that the program is of very high quality in the subject of business management.

Some of the other major program accreditation bodies that you should look for during your evaluation process are:

  • Social work: Council on Social Work Education (CSWE)
  • Counseling: Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
  • Nursing: Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE)
  • Public policy: Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs and Administration (NASPAA)
  • Psychology (campus-based only): American Psychological Association (APA)
  • Physician assistant: Accreditation Review Commission on Education for the Physician Assistant (ARC-PA)
  • Physical therapy: American Physical Therapy Association Commission on Accreditation in Physical Therapy (APTA-CAPTE)

Curriculum Quality

Be sure to carefully review the curriculum of the program you are considering. To do so effectively, you should have a solid understanding of the subject matter you are going to study. For example, if you are planning to study information technology online, the program should teach you vital skills that are needed in this field, such as modern operating systems and the most in demand software coding languages.

On a related note, check if the program allows you to transfer the credits you earn to another university. It is possible that you may need to transfer to another school at some point. If you cannot transfer the courses you have taken, it is worth asking why. Also, see if courses you took at other universities can be transferred to your new school.

Flexibility of Online Program Delivery

When you earn an online degree, it is vital to ensure that you are getting the same quality of degree as you would get if you were on campus. However, there are several ways that online education will always differ from learning face to face.

You should understand how your potential online program is going to deliver the course material to you remotely. Whatever college you attend online, it will use some type of learning management system to deliver course content. But at the end of the day, that system is simply a delivery system. What is most important is how the university uses the technology to deliver the course content.

While studying how the program delivers the online content to students, experts say that you should consider these questions and factors:

  • Is the content live, self-paced, or a combination? Universities usually deliver online course content either live, recorded or a combination of both. Which is best? It depends upon your learning preferences and your schedule. If you work a lot during the day or evening, you may discover that you are not able to attend some live online courses. So, you may want to attend a university that has a truly self-paced, recorded format for its courses. Other students may have a busy work and personal schedule, and need to earn their degree entirely online.
  • How often will you contact students and the instructor? Being able to interact with students and professors is essential to learning successfully online. The best online universities are able to keep students engaged with instructors and students regularly. Your professors also should be able to be contacted easily online and by telephone.
  • Is content provided on several platforms? It’s the 21st century, and students should be able to access course material on laptops, tablets and cell phones. The university should ensure that course delivery works seamlessly regardless of the type of device you use to access the material.
  • Is the recorded material interactive and engaging? If you are going to access courses that have been recorded, the material should be presented in a clear, interesting fashion to encourage active learning. Content should be specifically designed for multimedia presentations.

Specialties Available

Different online universities may feature different specialties in the program you are considering. It is important to research whether the school you are considering features your desired speciality and has a strong reputation in that area.

For instance, if you are considering an MBA in finance, it would be wise to look for a program that has a lot of experience in business finance. Programs that have a high level of experience in business finance will usually have a higher level of quality of instructors in that specialty. This can help you down the road when you are engaging in your job search after graduation.

Institution Reputation

The reputation of the university that offers the online program also is important after graduation. Generally, established nonprofit universities that offer online programs have a better reputation than for profit universities that only offer online programs.

A good example is the online MBA program offered by the University of North Carolina. This online program has a very high reputation for quality that is based upon the decades of experience and reputation featured by the campus-based MBA program at the university. Potential employers are likely to view this degree in a very positive light, while a degree from an online for profit university may be viewed as less rigorous.

Understanding the In-Person Requirements

Understanding the In-Person Requirements

Many programs are available fully online, but others aren’t. It’s important, therefore, that you don’t confuse blended learning with online learning.

If you search wisely, you’ll see that a huge number of colleges offer fully online programs. For instance, according to Best College Reviews, Missouri State University offers 10 fully online programs, Florida International University offers more than two dozen, and Colorado State University offers eight. The key word here is “fully,” which indicates that an online program can be completed, from start to finish, online. However, some programs – while they may take place predominantly online – cannot be completed completely using a distance model. As Best College Reviews says about one university, “Roughly half of the school’s online undergraduate options are offered entirely online while the remaining programs require some lab or classroom visits.” This is a pretty standard breakdown.

So how do you know whether a program will be fully online or include an on-campus component? Good question. Watch out for the word “blended” in descriptions, which means that you will be expected to meet in-person for at least some of the program.

Also, beware that programs requiring either a clinical or apprenticeship component typically can’t be completed online without in-person appearances. For instance, nurses must put in clinical hours to ensure their competence working with patients. As they cannot get that crucial patient interaction online, you cannot earn a nursing degree without an in-person component. The same is true for many other degrees in the medical field, though not all: For example, you can get a bachelor’s degree in psychology without ever stepping foot outside your living room.

Depending on your situation, you may not mind meeting on campus once in a while. Some blended programs make it very easy, only meeting for a week or a month during a certain part of the year. Others are online most of the week, then meet in person on Friday or Saturday morning, say. If this works for you, great. If not, make sure you steer clear of blended learning and review the requirements carefully before enrolling.

Create Flexibility in Your Online Class Schedule

Researching on Social Media

Just because your school is online doesn’t mean you can log in and out whenever you want, or that you can put school off for months and your tuition and enrollment will remain valid. That’s usually not the case. In fact, while online programs are much more often self-paced than traditional schools, they still have a great deal of expectation for student performance and punctuality. Consider a few of the most common formats for online learning:

  • Posted lecture times: In this format, students must all log on at a specific time for lecture. They may also be expected to log on during other times, such as discussion. If you miss lectures, you will most likely be penalized. As with traditional schooling, you may be asked to sign in to prove your attendance, or more likely, your logon will just be recorded. If you miss too many classes, your grade will suffer, or you may even be removed from the roster.
  • Asynchronous classes: In this model, there are no specific meeting times for online courses. Students can log in whenever they want to view lectures, contribute to discussions, communicate with peers and professors and submit their work. However, you are usually required to log in at specific intervals, such as once a week. This enables self-pacing but ensures you stay on track.
  • Office hours: Some professors offer office hours for student use if desired; other professors mandate you meet with them at least once during a term. Whatever the case, office hours are never made available at all times, but are set during specific windows. Even if you have the professor’s phone or email, you’re unlikely to reach them except at certain times, so beware of taking an all-hours approach to school when most people still keep regular schedules.

Also, don’t forget that deadlines are still deadlines. Most classes, even the ones that are nominally “self-paced,” have expectations for when you will submit material by. While the deadlines may be generous, that doesn’t mean they don’t exist. It is a mistake to treat school like something you’ll “get around to eventually,” because most programs will expire before you can finish with that attitude.

For those that never expire, you might want to think again. While there may be a few beneficial schools in this camp, almost none of the accredited models use this format. We will look at this more in the section “Go Slow Without Getting Off Track.”

Choose Your Online Schooling Habits Wisely

Connecting with People Who Matter

Many online students opt to study at night, but this may not be the wisest course. Perhaps you already know that the time of day impacts productivity. For the most part, people are more productive in the morning. How productive? Statistically significantly, it turns out. In a study of 6th to 11th graders, researcher Nolan G. Pope found that:

I find that given a school start time, students learn more in the morning than later in the school day. Having a morning instead of afternoon math or English class increases a student’s GPA by 0.072 (0.006) and 0.032 (0.006), respectively. A morning math class increases state test scores by an amount equivalent to increasing teacher quality by one-fourth standard deviation or half of the gender gap. Rearranging school schedules can lead to increased academic performance (2016).

These are big findings. While you are neither a 6th grader nor attending school in a traditional classroom, the applications to you are easy to see. If you want to succeed in demanding classes, you should schedule your study time for the morning hours. Especially if you’re taking classes that aren’t your strong suit – for many students, that includes subjects such as mathematics or accounting – you should try to get these in earlier in the day. If you’re very proficient with other subjects – say, writing or psychology – you can save these for later in the evening.

The way you arrange your workspace also matters. Researchers McMains and Kastner found that “Multiple stimuli present in the visual field at the same time compete for neural representation by mutually suppressing their evoked activity throughout visual cortex, providing a neural correlate for the limited processing capacity of the visual system” (2011). This science babble translates to: When your visual environment is cluttered, you just don’t think as well.

The antidote involves several steps:

  • Give your desk or office area a thorough cleaning before you head back to school
  • Designate a space for school papers
  • Create a filing system, organized by class and term, in that space
  • Take 5 minutes to clean off your space every day before sitting down to work
  • Clean the rest of your home regularly to avoid distraction, but do not succumb to the temptation to clean when you’re supposed to be doing schoolwork

Follow these tips regularly, and you’re far less likely to fall prey to the distraction and failed productivity that clutter causes.

Go Slow Without Getting Off Track

Connecting with People Who Matter

These days, the four-year degree is waning, at least in the sense that it no longer takes every student four years to earn a bachelor’s degree. In fact, as of 2013 that figure was closer to six, says Politifact. While this is not the median amount of time it takes students – the most common time period in which to complete an undergraduate degree is still four years – it is the mean amount of time, which means the average amount when all time periods are added up and divided by the number of students.

All of which is to say, it’s totally fine if your degree takes you more (or less) time than the average bear. That’s one of the nice things about self-paced coursework: it allows you to take your classes, and your education as a whole, at a rate that works for you (within the bounds of the school’s timeline, of course).

However, this freedom can be problematic for people who are used to a great deal of external constraints. If you don’t operate well without clear guidelines, you are probably better off with a distance education model that adheres to strict term schedules, mirroring the on-campus school year. If you do opt for self-paced coursework, be careful you don’t let it fall so far behind that you either lose interest, forget material or allow it to stack up so much you can’t catch up. Instead, you need to work steadily all the way through. That means:

  • Knowing what your upcoming assignments are in every class
  • Knowing your school schedule overall, including core and elective requirements
  • Keeping track of deadlines for submitting big projects
  • Filing paperwork on time
  • Applying for financial aid and scholarships every year
  • Scheduling in enough study time for exams, especially as they relate to certification or licensure

In addition to keeping track of looming deadlines, CollegeBoard recommends using your summers well, too (2017).

If you’re following a term model where you have time off in the summer, they suggest:

  • Getting hands-on experience in the real world of your industry
  • Taking other classes, ones you don’t have time for during the school year
  • Joining a book club, preferably one that has similar interests
  • Keeping a journal to improve your writing skills
  • Reading the news to stay up-to-date on current events, especially in your desired industry

This will make the best use of your time and keep you engaged in your coursework and field.

On the other hand, when you have deadlines looming, it’s important to stay focused on what’s right in front of you by using a regimented planning system. Try to use only one system for keeping track of all your assignments and deadlines. That could be a paper planner, a phone calendar, a computer calendar (such as GCal) or another app. Whatever it is, stay faithful to that one system, otherwise you’ll find yourself having to search through multiple calendars or planners.

Similarly, keep all your paperwork in one place when you’re out and about, especially if you frequently study at coffee shops or a campus library if you go in every so often. Use the folders included in your spiral notebooks or separate folders to collate your paperwork for each class. Write down dates as soon as you have them, which you often will at the beginning of a term when you receive your syllabus. If you must use an alternate planning system to ensure you catch all the miscellanea that might fall through the cracks, use a single note or an app on your phone where you keep everything in one place, again to avoid missing something important.

Experts Weigh In On Online College Benefits

The benefits of attending an online college are numerous, but the impact on your schedule and is just as momentous.

Don’t believe it? Here are a few words from the experts.

Jeff Seaman
“More students at private nonprofits flocking to online classes might go hand in hand with the decline at for-profits as some seek alternatives. Private nonprofits overall experienced the largest growth in online student enrollment between 2012 and 2015, rising by double digits each year.”Jeff Seaman, Co-director of the Babson Survey Research Group
Curt Bonk
“You don’t have this notion of a 10-second wait time from a teacher to have to respond to; you can respond an hour later or a day later – whenever you feel you have contemplated on the idea enough. Curt Bonk, Professor of Education at Indiana University—Bloomington and author of “The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education”.
Clayton Christensen
“The competition and technological improvements add up to “a great thing” for anyone interested in learning…What used to be expensive and inaccessible becomes convenient and accessible,” he says. “You can see price competition coming…What’s more, the best online courses, in many cases, now rival the quality of traditional classes.”Clayton Christensen, a Harvard Business School Professor
“I love online teaching because no one can hide. Every voice is heard.” Jeannette E. Riley, Best Online Teacher for 2008 by the Sloan Consortium
“Online education provides additional opportunities…It gives people greater opportunity for flexibility, for experiential learning, for illustrating things in multiple ways such as visualization.”Diana G. Oblinger, president of Educause
“This report correctly recognizes that online learning and blended learning are growing components of higher education and, employed properly, can play a significant role in promoting student learning. Further public investment in experimentation and technology is certainly warranted” in response to a meta-analysis released by the U.S. Department of Education in 2009.” Lawrence N. Gold, Director of Higher Education at the American Federation of Teachers
“The study’s (2009 Report on Online Education) major significance lies in demonstrating that online learning today is not just better than nothing — it actually tends to be better than conventional instruction.” Barbara Means, Lead Author, Educational Psychologist at SRI International

Cultivate Online Study Buddies

Cultivate Online Study Buddies

Everyone knows you study buddies pay off. The benefits are numerous, including:

  • Another resource for understanding material: When you work with a buddy, you can share resources and bring different strengths to the table. This helps you get past roadblocks in your own understanding.
  • Someone to take notes when you’re gone: You can’t always make it to class, even the online kind. If you have a partner will to take notes and email them to you, as well as explain assignments and papers, you’re likelier to succeed.
  • A partner to study for tests: It’s easier to quiz yourself with another person’s help than it is on your own.
  • Someone to work through problems with: This has a twofold meaning. Firstly, that you may choose to do homework with your study buddy. This is easy to do over the phone or Skype if you can’t make a face-to-face meeting happen. Secondly, that school is frustrating and often difficult. A listening ear will help you blow off steam and increase your chances of sticking to it.

Plus, it is an oft-repeated fact that teaching is an excellent way to up your understanding of material yourself. Says Annie Murphy Paul, writing for TIME Magazine (2011):

Students enlisted to tutor others, these researchers have found, work harder to understand the material, recall it more accurately and apply it more effectively. In what scientists have dubbed “the protégé effect,” student teachers score higher on tests than pupils who are learning only for their own sake.

The Learning Pyramid, as demonstrated by the Peak Performance Center (n.d.), makes this idea even clearer. While lecture leads to 5 percent retention and reading to 10 percent, group discussion leads to 50 percent retention, practicing skills by actually doing them leads to 75 percent retention and teaching others leads to a full 90 percent. If you can spend some of your study buddy time explaining concepts to others, you’ll be much better off.

You have to be careful, however, that in the pursuit of greater retention and learning, you’re not unintentionally hindering yourself. While workplace and school productivity differ, an illuminating study sheds light on the value of interactions with peers and colleagues. According to Ryan Fuller, a writer for the Harvard Business Review,

U.S. government data suggests overall labor productivity has only grown 1-2% per year during the tech boom. With trillions invested during this time period, that’s a hard number to reconcile. My strong hypothesis is that we’re focusing on the wrong kind of productivity (2016).

Fuller goes on to explain that employees are spending massive amounts of time in emails and meetings that have no direct impact on the company’s bottom line. All told, 700 employees spent 2,000,000 hours in interactions that accomplished nothing worthwhile in terms of the company’s strictest standard of measurement: profitability.

Again, these findings need to be adjusted for students, but that adjustment is relatively simple. For group projects and study sessions, you should ensure that all communication via email and phone is actually necessary. Most likely you didn’t go to college online to make friends; you already have those. While it’s great to be friendly – and you can even maintain a friendship outside of school time – make sure the time you dedicate to studying is actually spent on studying.

Get to Know Your Online Professors

Get to Know Your Online Professors

This is a short section, but critical: It is important to know your professors. Online education encourages distance, not only from campus, but from the professional educators responsible for your grades and your degree as well. It might take a bit more effort on your part, but knowing your professors is absolutely worth it. If you have a good relationship with them, you will:

  • Have somewhere to turn when you get confused
  • Have a better chance of arguing for a higher grade
  • Gain a source of mentoring
  • Add someone to your list of people to ask for recommendations

Make the effort to know them by introducing yourself at the start of term, attending office hours and emailing each professor at least once or twice per term. Even if you have to invent a small reason, do it because then you’ll be on their radar.

Know the End Goal

Know the End Goal

Higher education has a significant impact on the salary you will make over your lifetime. Consider the following 2011 statistics from U.S. News & World Report:

Those holding bachelor’s degrees earn about $2.27 million over their lifetime, while those with master’s, doctoral, and professional degrees earn $2.67 million, $3.25 million, and $3.65 million, respectively. That said, the major and industry a student selects ultimately have an enormous impact on lifetime earnings. Those with bachelor’s degrees who work either in management or science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) earn more, on average, than people with advanced degrees of any level who work in fields like education, sales, and community service.

Many of the degrees you will earn in higher education are STEM-related or otherwise classed in higher professional fields. Even those who get degrees in education and community service, though, will see major bumps in pay from a bachelor’s or masters’ degree:

Those with bachelor’s degrees, no matter the field, earn vastly more than counterparts with some college ($1.55 million in lifetime earnings) or a high school diploma ($1.30 million lifetime), indicating that no matter the level of attainment or the field of study, simply earning a four-year degree is often integral to financial success later in life. (2011)

Clearly, getting that degree is a good idea. The sooner you do it, moreover, the better, because you can get a jump on increasing that gap between what you were paid and what you’re being paid now. The more education you get, and the faster you attain it, the better off you’ll be. That said, be sure to take everything slow, avoid overwhelm and work steadily toward your goals. Soon enough, you’ll get there.

Understanding Online College Rankings

Understanding Online College Rankings

Finding the right online university for your career is very important, as this article makes clear. A significant factor to consider when you choose your online university program is what the college is ranked. Today there are many well-known college ranking systems that you should know about.

Before you start to review any college rankings, remember this: Different online college ranking systems will give greater weight to some factors than others. For example, one of the most popular online college ranking programs is conducted by US News and World Report. The major ranking factors that US News considers are as follows:

  • Graduation and retention rates: 22.5% – average graduation rate and average first year student retention rate
  • Undergraduate academic reputation: 22.5% – peer assessment survey; high school counselors’ ratings
  • Faculty resources: 20% – faculty compensation; terminal degrees in their field; number of full time faculty; student-faculty ratio; class size
  • Student selectivity: 12.5% – acceptance rate; high school class standing; SAT and ACT scores
  • Financial resources: 10% – resources allocated for each student
  • Graduation rate performance: 7.5%

Another popular ranking system is offered by the Princeton Review. This system uses somewhat different ranking criteria:

  • Academics and administration
  • Quality of life
  • Politics
  • Campus life
  • Town life
  • Social life
  • Extracurriculars
  • Social scene

OEDB, also known as the Open Education Database, is another system that offers online college rankings. Its ranking criteria are as follows:

  • Acceptance rate
  • Default rate
  • Graduation rate
  • Student-faculty ratio
  • Retention rate
  • Enrollment rate
  • Institution financial aid rate

Clearly, these ranking systems may offer somewhat different conclusions as far as which programs are the best ranked. In 2017 for example, the Princeton Review ranked the University of North Carolina as the best online MBA program. Under the US News ranking system, UNC is ranked only #4. So, it is a good idea to review the rankings of several college ranking systems to get a good idea of how your school stacks up with the competition.

Reviews of Online Colleges to Consider

Reviews of Online Colleges to Consider

The folliwng online universities allow students to attend either full or part time, and to attend their classes as their schedules allow.

Through these programs, students are able to set their own schedule for completing courses, rather than having to follow the timetable set by the school. It is particularly popular among working professionals, who require a greater degree of flexibility if they are to complete an educational program. Self-paced online colleges offer both undergraduate and graduate degrees, as well as graduate certificates.

While there are some schools that require students to attend school a few times during the program, the vast majority is done completely in the student’s’ own time.

Please review this list of eight accredited self-paced online colleges and some of the programs that they have to offer.

More than one in four students (28%) now take at least one distance education course (a  total of 5,828,826 students, a year‐to‐year increase of 217,275).

*Liberty University

Liberty University is a private university that was opened in 1971. Its total undergraduate enrollment is nearly 50,000 as of 2017. Liberty University offers bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in many fields, with a focus on religious and divinity studies. The university also has a law school, a school of osteopathic medicine and a school of education. Tens of thousands of students earn online degrees from this university; it has offered online programs for more than 30 years. Most online courses are eight weeks in length. The university is regionally accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. Some of its programs are accredited by specialized accreditation organizations; the nursing programs, for example, are accredited by the Commission on Collegiate Nursing Education (CCNE).

  • Campus: Lynchburg, VA; Online
  • Type: Non-profit
  • Accreditation: Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Programs offered:
    • Associates: Associate’s in applied science, business, criminal justice, paralegal studies, psychology, religion;
    • Bachelors: Bachelor’s in accounting, biblical education studies, business, criminal justice, early childhood education, history, informatics, information technology, psychology, religion evangelism, special education, paralegal studies, nursing, Christian ministries;
    • Masters: Master’s in Christian ministry, executive leadership, global studies, HR, marriage and family therapy, pastoral counseling, management and leadership, music and worship studies, public policy, religion, theology, MBA, divinity, education, public health, criminal justice, marketing, cybersecurity, sport management;
    • Doctorate: Doctorate in business administration, education, ministry, nursing practice, worship studies, counseling, theology, education specialist, ministry leadership
  • Request Enrollment Info Direct: Liberty University

*Grand Canyon University

Grand Canyon University was established in 1949, and is based in Phoenix, Arizona. It is a private university that grants bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in many fields. It features a College of Business, College of Education, College of Nursing and Health Professionals, College of Arts and Sciences, College of Fine Arts and College of Theology. It is regionally accredited by the Western Association of Colleges and Schools. There are currently 13,100 students attending the university full time, and 56,000 attend part time; many of those are taking online degree programs.

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  • Campus: Phoenix, AZ; online
  • Type: For-profit
  • Accreditation: Western Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Programs offered:
    • Bachelors: Bachelor’s in business, engineering and technology, psychology, counseling, teaching, school administration, theology, ministry, English, communications, engineering, information technology, computer science;
    • Masters: Master’s in business administration, educational administration, public health, business analytics, accounting, criminal justice, health care administration, nursing, leadership, IT management; Doctorate in business administration, organizational leadership, psychology
  • Request Enrollment Info Direct: Grand Canyon University

*Southern New Hampshire University

Southern New Hampshire University is a private college that was established in 1932. Its total undergraduate enrollment is 3050. It is based in Manchester, NH, but it offers a wide variety of online degree programs for bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral students. It features the unique College Unbound program that allows some students to earn a BA in three years. The university is regionally accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges. It has earned a strong reputation as a highly innovative university and was recently ranked #1 in this category by US News and World Report.

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  • Campus: Manchester, NH; online
  • Type: Non-profit
  • Accreditation: New England Association of Schools and Colleges, ACBSP
  • Tuition: Affordable – Inquire
  • Over 200 Programs offered:
    • Bachelors: Bachelor’s in accounting, anthropology, accounting finance, business administration, business analytics, public relations, computer information technology, computer science, criminal justice, data analytics, elementary education, finance, history, human services, marketing, mathematics, nursing, operations and project management, psychology, public health, public administration, special education;
    • Masters: Master’s in accounting, communication, clinical nurse leader, economics, curriculum and instruction, cybersecurity, elementary education, healthcare administration, health information management, HR management, information technology, MBA, management, marketing, operations management, nurse educator, psychology, TEFL;
    • Doctorate: Doctorate in educational leadership, international business
  • Request Enrollment Info Direct: Southern New Hampshire University

*Northcentral University

Northcentral University was founded in 1996, and offers many bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees online. Each class for each program is taught by doctoral faculty, and there are no on campus requirements for degree programs offered. The university is regionally accredited by the WASC Senior College and University Commission. The college also was accredited in 2003 by the Higher Learning Commission. Its business programs also are accredited by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs, or ACBSP. It was one of the first online colleges to obtain ACBSP accreditation for all of its business programs.

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  • Campus: Scottsdale, AZ; online
  • Type: For-profit
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Program Types: Bachelors, Masters, Doctoral
  • Programs offered:
    • Bachelors: Bachelor’s in business administration, education, psychology;
    • Masters: Master’s in business administration, accounting, organizational leadership, technology and innovation management, education, psychology, forensic psychology, child and adolescent psychology, health psychology, I/O psychology;
    • Doctoral: Doctorate in business administration, organizational leadership, technology and innovation management, education, education specialist, psychology, organizational leadership, marriage and family therapy
  • Request Enrollment Info Direct: Northcentral University

Thomas Edison State University

Thomas Edison State University has numerous flexible online programs available, enabling people to complete their degrees at a pace that is convenient to them, from wherever they want. They offer over 100 different subject areas at graduate and undergraduate level. They are one of the few schools that offer online associate’s degree programs, which take 60 credits to complete. 120 credits are required for bachelor’s degrees. The school is regionally accredited by Middle States Commission on Higher Education, as well as holding program accreditation through relevant bodies.

  • Campus: Trenton, NJ; online
  • Type: Non-profit
  • Accreditation: Middle States Commission on Higher Education
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Programs offered: Associate’s in arts, human services, criminal justice, computer studies, electrical technology, mathematics, computer science, business administration, computer and information technology; Bachelor’s in communications, computer science, English, history, international studies, sociology, psychology, electrical technology, accounting, finance, marketing, operations management, cybersecurity, data science and analytics, nursing, homeland security, organizational leadership; Master’s in educational leadership, educational technology, HR management, nursing, international business finance, information technology, public service leadership, MBA
  • Request Enrollment Info Direct: Thomas Edison University

*Rasmussen University

Rasmussen University’s innovative Flex Choice program is designed to save you time and money. These programs not only offer all the flexibility that comes with self-paced online learning, they streamline the process by giving you college credit for what you already know. The generous credit transfer policy has allowed students to apply an average of 26 credits to their degree plan, saving them thousands. And with the Credit by Assessment option that grants credits for experiential knowledge, students can save even more. Saving money is a big deal, but when you’re eager to get started in your career, saving time is just important. And with Flex Choice, you get both.

Rasmussen University offers the following programs with the benefits of Flex Choice:

Associate Degree Programs

  • Accounting
  • Business Management
  • Human Resources and Organizational Leadership
  • Marketing
  • Graphic Design
  • Early Childhood Development
  • Health Information Technician
  • Human Services
  • Medical Laboratory Technician
  • Physical Therapist Assistant
  • Radiologic Technology
  • Surgical Technologist
  • Criminal Justice
  • Law Enforcement
  • Paralegal
  • Information Technology
  • Network Systems Administration
  • Software Application Development

Bachelor’s Degree Programs

  • Accounting (accelerated master’s pathway available)
  • Business Management (accelerated master’s pathway available)
  • Marketing (accelerated master’s pathway available)
  • Human Resources and Organizational Leadership(accelerated master’s pathway available)
  • Graphic Design
  • Early Childhood Development
  • Human Services
  • Criminal Justice
  • Information Security
  • Information Technology (IT) Management
  • Graphic Design

Certificate Programs

  • Accounting
  • Early Childhood Development
  • Law Enforcement
  • Paralegal

The school has received regional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission, as well as having program-level accreditation.

  • Campus: Various in MN, IL, WI, ND, FL, KS; online
  • Type: For-profit
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission; specialty programmatic accreditations for individual programs
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Programs offered: Bachelor’s and master’s in business, design, education, health sciences, justice studies, nursing and technology.

University of North Dakota – Online & Distance Education

One of the things that make the University of North Dakota so special is that students can enroll at any time that they like. They offer online self paced independent courses, but they can also be completed through traditional mail correspondence. Courses must be completed within nine months. Unfortunately, no financial aid is available. The school is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission and also has program accreditation.

  • Campus: Grand Forks, ND; online
  • Type: Non-profit
  • Accreditation: Higher Learning Commission
  • Tuition: Inquire
  • Programs offered: Bachelor’s in accountancy, addiction counseling, airport management, management, engineering science, electrical engineering, economics, early childhood education, forensic science, computer science, biology, marketing, nursing, social work, statistics, special education, psychology, public health education, sociology; Master’s in counseling psychology, economics, criminal justice, engineering, education, English, forensic psychology, linguistics, music, nursing, nutrition, occupational therapy, physical therapy, psychology, public health, public administration, social work, PA studies, public health, physics, psychology


Our editorial staff determined the ranking for the above schools by considering the following ranking factors:

  • School accreditation
  • Program accreditation
  • Curriculum quality
  • Flexibility of online course delivery
  • Specialties available
  • Institution reputation

At the end of the day, when you’re looking for a great self paced online college, know there are many great options. If you truly follow our Guide on Choosing Self Paced Online Colleges you will have the tools and power to start when  you want!

Happy Searching!

Data Sources & References