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Maximize Your Future a guide to online learning

Is This Guide Right For Me? You will find this download most helpful if you fit into one of the following categories: 9 I am new to online learning and want to find out more. 9 I am considering earning my undergraduate or graduate degree and want to explore the differences between online and on-campus schools. 9 I am ready to commit to an online education, but looking for guidance on how to choose the right university.

Online is fast becoming a preferred way of learning for all kinds of students across the globe. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 35% of college students take at least one online course, and nearly half of those students are taking exclusively distance education courses. Here, you’ll discover need-to-know aspects of online degree programs. Included are tips for: >> Determining if your lifestyle is a good fit for online learning >> Getting your family on board with your education >> Choosing the right online institution for you Making an informed decision about the way you’ll attend college is the first step toward a degree and desired career path. We are here to help you consider your options, so you can make the best decision for your goals and lifestyle. Enjoy!


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Table of Contents I. Is Online Learning for Me?

4 6 7 9 11

College Education: Are You Ready? Dispelling the Myths About Online Degrees Simple Answers to Common Questions About Online Learning The Merits of Online Degree Programs Online Versus On-Campus: The Pros and Cons

II. Preparing for Online Learning 14 15 16 17 18

The Power of Family Support: Topics for Discussion Before Starting Your Online Degree Program What to Consider in Your Search for the Best Online University 10 Mistakes to Avoid When Exploring Your Options Comparison Worksheet Student Checklist: Preparing for a Successful Online Learning Experience

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Section I:

Is Online Learning for Me?


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College Education: Are You Ready? Good indicators that you are ready to pursue an online degree:

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You have a goal and know that education is key to getting there. You are ready to start your college education online if you already know that you need a certain degree type in order to get ahead—either financially or in terms of job responsibilities. Just remember, earning a degree requires commitment. Make sure you have a clear objective. Your family is on board with your decision to pursue your education. You are ready to start your college education online if you have discussed your goals with your family and have their support. It’s important to talk about why you want to go to college. Go over how things might be different: increased chores for kids, quiet time to study in the evenings, etc. You understand the time commitment required. You are ready to start your college education online if you are 100% committed. A three-credit college course will require, on average, 10 to 12 hours per week. Be realistic. A good rule of thumb is to set aside an hour and a half each evening for your studies, and a few hours each weekend day. You have considered the financial impacts of going to school to earn your degree. You are ready to start your college education online if you have researched your financing options. Explore all financial assistance options, including scholarships. And think about the payoff from your investment: the potential for increased earnings with your degree in hand.

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You are an active duty service member or veteran, and are familiar with your tuition assistance benefits. You are ready to start your college education online if you have learned about the veteran and tuition assistance (TA) benefits available to you. TA funds and veteran education benefits can cover the costs associated with tuition, books, supplies and more. It’s a smart, cost-effective way to obtain your education and improve your career opportunities. You are a corporate employee and tuition reimbursement is one of your company benefits. You are ready to start your college education online if you understand your company’s tuition reimbursement benefit. Taking advantage of this generous offer is an excellent way to obtain or increase your education, and is worthy of consideration. Do some checking at your workplace. Sometimes tuition assistance is not heavily advertised. If it is offered, consider these factors: How much they will pay.

Employers are able to provide $5,250 in educational assistance per year tax free. If your employer chooses to offer this benefit, chances are that the amount would cap at $5,250.

What they cover.

In addition to tuition and fees, are things like textbooks and related course materials included?

Type of education.

Find out how grades may affect your level of coverage. Employers often require a “C” or better for tuition reimbursement eligibility.

When they will pay.

Determine whether your employer will pay up front, at the start of the semester, or if you have to come up with money for tuition first and then wait for reimbursement after you receive your grades.

Some companies will pay 100% of the costs toward a degree or certificate, but only 50% for personal interest courses. Make sure to ask!

Field of study.

Type of institution.

Length of employment.

Typically, employers will insist that your chosen school is accredited by an accreditation agency recognized by the United States Department of Education (DOE) or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Check this out before settling on a university.


Your grades.

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A common employer requirement is for your field of study to be relevant to your current or future job. Following degree completion, you usually must remain employed for a certain amount of time by that employer.

Myth #1 Online learning programs are easier than those at brick-and-morter schools There is no definite way to label either online or oncampus schools as easier or harder than the other. The degree of difficulty is dependent on the student, the program and the school. Some brick-and-mortar schools offer both on-campus and online learning programs. For these schools, the coursework will no doubt be the same, just delivered in a different manner. And for most online universities, like Grantham University, the focus is on quality education.

Myth #2 Online learners miss out on interactions with instructors and other students Many online learning institutions hold class via webcams and chat rooms, enabling students to listen to course lectures by instructors and interact with other students. In fact, some online universities mandate that students post to a message board for their class a certain number of times a week. If they don’t, they risk being dropped from the course or getting a lower grade. Group work involving a number of students is also built into the curriculum of some online learning programs. In comparison, class sizes at many on-campus institutions are growing. Some underclassman courses hold several hundred students, and the courses are often taught by graduate students.

Myth #3 credits earned via online learning won’t transfer to other schools Transfer credit—whether from an on-campus or online institution—is always left to the discretion of the receiving institution. Look for a university that will give both your existing credits and prior work experience serious consideration for transferability. If you plan to transfer, be sure to check first with the receiving institution to determine if it will accept credits from the institution you are currently attending.

Dispelling the myths about Online degrees Myth #4 Online Degree programs are more expensive Tuition for online degree programs varies widely, and some are very competitive. Online schools also have their own unique expenses. While traditional schools pay for landscaping, building maintenance and sports facilities, online schools often pay extra for student support services. Some online schools have technology fees and proctored examination fees, which are legitimate expenses that allow students to complete their studies in a convenient format. It’s also important to consider the cost savings that online programs allow. Online students almost always pay zero commuting costs, zero parking fees and zero childcare costs.

Myth #5 Anyone can succeed in an online program Online learning is not for everybody and can be quite challenging for some. Before committing to an online course, consider the following: • Do I have easy access to a newer computer and highspeed internet? • Do I work well unsupervised? • Am I able to stick to a schedule and avoid procrastination? • Can I meet deadlines? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you may want to rethink the online learning option or enlist family and friends to support you. You must be able to work independently, stick to a schedule and meet the required deadlines. While some students thrive in a virtual learning environment, others do better within the structure of a traditional classroom.

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Simple Answers to Common Questions about Online Learning 1 2 3 4 5


How do online courses work?

Online courses are available through an institution’s virtual learning environment. All of your coursework, including discussions, tests and writing assignments, is completed electronically. You simply log in to the virtual learning environment through an app or web browser, click on the link for your course, and you are in class.

Are online courses truly available 24/7?

Convenience is one of the top reasons students elect to learn online. As long as assignments are submitted by the established due date, it doesn’t matter when you actually do the work. Some schools may give you a deadline for completing the entire course, rather than for each assignment. As long as you have all coursework completed prior to the class end date, you won’t be penalized.

Is online learning effective?

Yes. Several studies from researching bodies like MIT suggest that there is no significant difference in the effectiveness of learning through online courses and attending traditional, on-campus courses.

Is there any interaction with professors and other students?

Unlike an on-campus class, there are no live class lectures and no one is sitting in the back row. In an online classroom, everyone participates. Many online colleges require students to engage in weekly discussions. Professors provide feedback on assignments and are also available via email, phone and course chat rooms. Most offer virtual office hours as well.

Will I have an actual Instructor?

Yes, all online courses have instructors with varying credentials and real-world expertise. Typically, your instructor will have one of three different backgrounds: y An instructor at a traditional campus-based program, who also teaches online courses. y Someone who prefers online teaching only. y An expert working full-time in the career field in which he/she teaches, who teaches online courses part-time. For example, your instructor for Criminal Justice 101 could also be the Chief of Police in a city or town near you.

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How much time will I spend studying?

Online learning is flexible, but still requires hard work and focus. On average, expect to spend about 10 to 12 hours per week on your studies for each course.

Are online colleges accredited?


Reputable online universities, just like traditional campus-based colleges, are accredited by agencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) and/or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). Accreditation assures that the institution operates on a sound financial basis; has approved programs of study, qualified instructors, and adequate facilities and equipment; and has approved recruitment and admissions policies. A great way to check on a college or university’s accreditation is to search for them on the U.S. Department of Education’s Database of Accredited Programs and Institutions.

Can anyone take an online course?

If you have a computer, internet access and meet admissions requirements, you can take an online class. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it is the right choice for you. Online students need to be highly motivated and capable of adhering to a set study schedule.

Do I have to wait until the start of a new semester to enroll?

Rather than being semester-based, many online universities have weekly, biweekly or monthly enrollment periods, so you can get started on your degree as quickly as possible. Many online schools also have continuous enrollment, meaning that once you enroll and start your courses, you can progress through each course without taking a break.

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The Merits of Online Degree Programs

A critical part of the online versus on-campus debate is understanding the advantages of online universities. Learn why online degree programs continue to rise in popularity.

Convenience and Flexibility Adult students with families and career commitments enroll in online degree programs because they find it easier to balance work, family and school. With online learning, you can study and attend class when it’s convenient for you—not when it’s convenient for the institution. Online programs typically allow you to work at your own pace, and some do not have any set class times.

Affordability If you are seeking an associate degree, online courses can be more expensive than taking courses at your local community college. But according to, a national consumer advocacy group that researches, rates, ranks and verifies the credibility of online college and online degree programs, students are likely to save thousands by attending an online university. For example, students taking online classes save valuable time, money, and wear and tear on their car by not traveling to and from campus. And, many online institutions offer accelerated programs, which mean less time spent in school and less money spent on tuition.

Validity Online students have indicated that online courses are just as tough, if not tougher, than courses taught in a traditional classroom. This is because attending classes online requires excellent time management skills and dedication.


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Student support One fear many students have about online education is that they’ll be all alone in their studies. This isn’t the case at all. Like students attending class on a physical campus, you’ll have to study, read chapters and complete assignments independently. But if you have a question, you don’t have to wait until the next time your class meets to get an answer; your professor is just an email, chat session or phone call away. You can also take advantage of course discussion boards and chat virtually with fellow students about your questions. It’s important to look for online institutions that offer academic and student advising, tutoring and mentoring. Students also have the opportunity to work and communicate with other students, faculty and subject matter experts outside of their geographic location. Collaborating with people from different areas and levels of expertise enhances the education experience.

Immediate results Many virtual learning programs use online testing, which allows you to complete an exam or assignment and receive your grade right away. Because you aren’t waiting one or two weeks to get your grade back, you are able to progress through your studies at a much faster rate and gain a better understanding of the subject matter areas. At most online learning institutions, you also have access to your student account, online classes, course material and grades 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Flexible class sizes With online learning, the size of the classroom is not as limited as it is in a traditional school setting. In-person classrooms can’t keep up with the growing number of college students, so online learning has become a viable choice for many. Online education also allows for a large variety of course offerings because classes aren’t restricted by time and location.

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Online Versus On-Campus: The Pros and Cons

Online Education Pros


Convenience: • Do you have a full-time job? • Are you an active member in the military? • Do you have family members, including children, at home in your care?

Time management required: You must be disciplined to complete assignments according to established deadlines.

Online education is ideal because of the flexible nature of classes offered, enabling you to complete your degree while balancing work and family responsibilities. Ability to set your own pace: Many online degree programs have frequent start dates—some even weekly. This allows you the opportunity to complete courses and achieve your degree quickly. Affordability: Not all online degrees are more affordable than traditional or community college rates, but many are. And, enrolling in an online degree program ensures you don’t have to spend extra money on gas, parking or child care. Cultural diversity: Online students are in class with faculty members and students from around the globe. Technology benefits: Taking classes online and becoming familiar with modern technology will help you in your career. A wide range of practical experience with computer software could set you apart from the competition.


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Limited face-to-face interaction: You meet other students in an online setting, but it is typically via chat rooms or class discussion threads. If you don’t mind independent learning with limited live interaction, this won’t be a problem. Technology problems: Without the internet, you cannot complete your online coursework. Make sure you have a backup plan in the event of a power or connectivity issue.

Online Versus On-Campus: The Pros and Cons

Traditional Education Pros


Networking opportunities: You meet more people faceto-face while attending a traditional university. As a result of networking, your contacts could grow, and your networking opportunities could increase.

Strict scheduling: Enrolling in a specific course at a traditional university can present scheduling challenges. If a desired course is only offered during the day, it can be difficult for working adults to work it into their full-time job.

Experience new places: For some students, experiencing a different part of the country (or the world) is a valuable part of going to school in terms of maturity, diversity and social opportunity.

Affordability: Cost will vary, but admission into a traditional university, especially if it’s out of state, won’t come cheap.

On-site facilities: Students who enroll in a traditional university have the opportunity to take advantage of the institution’s facilities, including the student union, gym and athletic stadium.

Limited personal attention: This is particularly true in larger state universities, where undergraduate lecture halls packed to the brim with 400 to 500 students is commonplace. One-on-one instruction is not common in this type of setting.

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Section II:

Preparing for Online Learning


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The Power of Family Support:

Topics for Discussion Before Starting Your Online Degree Program When contemplating your college education, don’t underestimate the power of family support. Your educational experience is a team effort, and their understanding and assistance is critical to your success. Organize your thoughts around the following five topics, and you’ll be well on your way to a cohesive family plan for your education.

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Explain why you are going back to school.

Outline your choice in specific terms. Mention the kind of job or promotion that a new degree can yield. Explain how your earning potential and job security will improve ( education_pays.htm). Consider the issue from their perspective, and discuss items that will directly impact their lives in the short term and the long run.

Explain that an online degree makes sense for you and your situation.

Share the reasons behind your choice of online education. Virtual learning is flexible, convenient and as effective (if not more so) as classroom learning.

Discuss the impact of tuition on the family budget.

Be up front in talking about how you will pay for college. Discuss your employer’s tuition reimbursement program, if applicable. Remind your family that your education is essentially an investment in the entire household.

Tell your family how they can help you succeed.

Establish ground rules for your study time. Set reasonable expectations for your study hours. And be prepared to consistently enforce these rules until the new family routine is firmly in place.

Estimate a timeline of goals and hurdles.

Both kids and adults respond well to timelines rather than open-ended periods of change. Even though you can’t promise when you’ll graduate, you can provide a reasonable estimation. Let family members share in the excitement of your progress. Plan celebrations for milestones along the way, such as completion of courses. Be calm and open. Make sure everyone’s ideas are heard. Your kids and partner need to feel valued, too, so don’t let the conversation end on a note about you. And above all, express your thanks for their cooperation.

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What to Consider in Your Search for the Best Online University Once you decide that an online program is a good fit for you, there are several points to consider as you begin looking for the right institution. Pay close attention to scheduling requirements.

Many schools offer flexible scheduling, but not all scheduling options may be student aid-eligible. For example, if you’re using Federal Student Aid, you may have to follow a set course schedule, which can rule out flexible, student-paced programs.

Explore all fees associated with any program.

While it’s easy to fall into the program with the lowest tuition to save money, it’s also easy to get into a program with many hidden fees that suddenly run up the program cost. For example, some programs include course materials in their tuition costs while others do not. This simple difference can mean hundreds of dollars in out-of-pocket expenses each term.

Utilize social media to check out prospective online colleges.

Explore each institution’s virtual community of students and alumni. This is a great place to plug into the overall feel of a school, see how happy current students are and ask general questions.

Explore every aspect of their websites.

Navigate each college’s website and see how it compares with others as this will give a good glimpse into the school overall. You will find that the web presence of many schools varies and that some less-than-reputable schools are poorly represented online. The website should be user-friendly with easy access to information.

Find a useful contact at the school.

Beyond a useful website, another key source of information when comparing online colleges is a knowledgeable staff member at the college who can answer questions. Many people do not utilize student advising to its fullest potential, and this is actually a very important part of finding the best-fit program. If you find your first contact at the school less than knowledgeable, don’t be afraid to ask for a supervisor to get the answers you need.

Learn how the institution deals with deployments.

For military students, coordinating classes and coursework with deployment is an important issue. Find out how military-friendly the school is. Determine if the school’s advisors communicate with faculty in order to resolve deployment-related scheduling issues. Taking special care to compare all aspects of online colleges will allow you to make an informed choice as you prepare to enroll. With the variety of programs available, there is no need to settle for a program that does not fit your scheduling needs, interests or even job requirements. In making your final decision, taking the time to compare and research is key.


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10 Mistakes to Avoid When Exploring Your Options As you get closer to deciding upon an online university, there is much to consider. Don’t let the following mistakes get in your way of making the best choice for your education.

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Procrastination. Where will you be if you do nothing? If you are not sure what degree is best, ask your admissions representative for help. Sticking with the big names. Don’t eliminate an online college or university just because it is not an institution whose name you immediately recognize. Being timid. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. In fact, put together a list of questions before talking with admissions representatives.


Ruling out a school based on cost. Don’t be afraid of initial costs presented by a university. Financial aid, credit for life experience, scholarships and tuition payment plans may make a college or university far more affordable than it appears to be.


Discounting the attention of admissions reps. Don’t “blow off” any admissions representatives who may call you. Take advantage of the opportunity to learn more about their online degree programs. They should be able to offer valuable information about programs and admission requirements.


Relying upon memory. Don’t assume you’ll remember the details. Take good notes when you read college brochures and speak with admissions representatives. The comparison worksheet on the next page is a great way to record your experience with the various schools you are considering.


Being discouraged by financial aid forms. If you need help understanding the financial aid forms, most online colleges have staff members who will be happy to assist you.


Settling. Don’t go with the first program you discover. Be thorough in your search. For instance, a general business program might not serve you as well as a program with a focus in accounting, marketing, management, etc. Get the degree that fits your background and career goals.


Going at it alone. Don’t keep your interest in continuing your education a secret. Give friends, family members and colleagues the chance to share their experiences and offer you important encouragement and support.


Being intimidated. Be confident in your decision to return to school. If you have good academic and time management skills, are motivated, and have the support of your closest family members and friends, your chances of achieving your degree and career goals are high.

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financial assisstance

Interaction with University Representative Flexibility Variety of degree Programs


School of Interest

Online university comparison worksheet


School B

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School c School D

student checklist: Preparing for a successful Online experience Start off on the right foot with your online education. Here are a few essentials for a successful student experience. Time—know, on average, how many hours to set aside for schoolwork A dependable computer with the typical Microsoft Office programs, such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint Reliable internet access Ability to access your school email account daily The school’s tutorial (typically provided) for navigating the online learning environment and accessing valuable school resources (e.g., the library, learning center, tutoring, etc.) Technical support Technical support Textbooks—to cut costs, consider buying used or renting In addition, universities typically provide students with these helpful online tools: • Announcement boards/course syllabi to stay current on assignments • Discussion board to post questions and responses • Chat area to interact with other students and instructors Grantham University | GRANTHAM.EDU


Now what? Now that you have given this guide to online learning an in-depth read, what do you think about this mode of learning for you? Ready to dive into your degree and maximize your future?

Explore Grantham University’s 60+ accredited degree programs, tuition assistance opportunities and more.



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Profile for Grantham University

Grantham University—Guide to Online Learning  

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