For professionals looking to advance their career, earning a certificate or even an advanced degree could be the catalyst needed to move up the ranks. Although work and life constraints can make it hard to pursue academic endeavors, more and more working professionals are taking online classes allowing them to better coordinate their schedules around work responsibilities and their personal life.
“It’s an opportunity to change your career direction,” says Reggie Smith III, president of United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), a nonprofit that promotes the development and application of distance learning for education and training. ”More degrees can make you more competitive. It’s also an opportunity to network with people in your field. As blacks, we don’t do that enough.”
Before you apply for admission, here are some key points to consider to get the most out of your experience.
Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Class Schedules
There are two schedules that many online courses follow. Synchronous classes happen in real time and follow a set schedule. Asynchronous classes give students more flexibility by allowing them to access posted course material and attend classes at any given time.
For professionals who prefer to have a more structured learning experience, synchronous online courses would be the preferred option. For professionals who are able to manage their work without having hard deadlines and need to have a more flexible academic schedule, asynchronous learning may better suit them.
While picking a class schedule, keep in mind that some programs require students to spend a certain percentage of time in a physical classroom.
Beware—not all online educational programs are properly accredited. Known as diploma mills, these entities have all of the trappings of an online educational institution but are really just scams. Some recurring characteristics of diploma mills are the absence of a physical location (many have P.O. box addresses), false advertising that degrees can be completed in a manner of months instead of years, and the requirement that students pay per each completed degree instead of for each course or semester.
A number of these false setups even have names similar to prestigious or well-known institutions. For example, Americus University, an unaccredited degree-granting school located in Washington D.C., has a strikingly similar name to the fully accredited American University, which is also located in Washington D.C. Degrees from unaccredited schools are not recognized by prospective employers or other colleges and universities. Check with regional accreditation agencies or confer with your state’s education department to confirm accreditation.
There’s a public misconception that online classes are cheaper than traditional universities. In some cases they can be just as costly. Calculate costs and all related expenses before choosing the right program for you.
If money is an issue, there are a number of online destinations that provide entire courses free of charge. One such entity is iTunes U. At iTunes U, any individual can access free coursework from prestigious universities such as Stanford University and the University of Oxford, among others. Similar to purchasing songs, individuals can download lectures (video or audio files) to their iTunes library or to their MP3 player.