Online graduate programs gain popularity

Many people are interested in graduate study, but don’t have the time or budget to support an on-campus experience. Online graduate study is becoming increasingly popular, says Chris Foley, assistant vice president and director of online education at Indiana University.

He says online study can be an attractive choice for those who want to “gain skills that would help them move up in their current career,” shift to a new career field, or just increase their knowledge about a certain subject.

Blended programs, in which part of your study is online, and part on campus, also are an option. Foley says that for some students, blended programs combine “the best of both worlds,” providing a traditional connection to faculty and students, along with the opportunity to integrate field research or field trips.

Foley says an effective search for an online program should be conducted as thoroughly as one for an on-campus program. First, determine your end goal: For example, do you want to find another job or earn a promotion? Then, talk to those who have already completed such a program to see if it delivered. Once you’ve tackled those steps, it’s time to begin your search.

Foley says it’s important to look for programs that have earned regional accreditation and that “have a reputation for developing strong graduates in your particular area of study or profession.”

Researching costs and fees is also critical. Some institutions charge a flat rate to earn as many credits as you want, but “many online students complete programs on a part-time basis, so paying by the credit hour makes more sense for them,” Foley says. Also, learn whether courses are offered on a semester or quarterly basis.

Make sure you understand the requirements and ensure that they fit your budget, schedule and lifestyle. Some institutions require students to spend part of their time on campus. Is the course schedule flexible? Can you do the coursework on your own time, or are you required to be online on certain days and at specific times?

If you’re considering an online program offered by a school that’s close to home, Foley also recommends making an on-site visit to get a feel for the campus. He suggests meeting with faculty members and visiting the Student Services office. Try to make a stop at the Career Services Office and take time to talk with students or advisors, if possible.

Taking the time to complete your “due diligence” will ensure that your graduate studies start you on the path to a successful career.