by Tip Hero David Glenn
Choosing the right online college to enroll in is one of the most important decisions you will ever make. But with the vast number of institutions and programs currently operating online, just figuring out where to begin the selection process can be challenging. If you’re ready to take the next big step on your educational path, but the task of choosing the right college seems overwhelming, here are 7 ways to find the best online college that fits your needs.

1. Choose a major

Before the hunt for an online college begins it’s critical to have a good idea of the subject and degree you would like to pursue. A good approach is to first consider what career options are possible in the subject you are most interested in, picture which career might suit you best, and then focus on the degree needed to make your career change a reality.

Having a good idea of what you want to do can help narrow down the list of online colleges that have the best programs to meet your academic goals. Choosing a major will also save you a lot of time and money by helping you to avoid taking courses that won’t help you meet your career objectives. Seeking guidance from family, friends, and career counselors can be very helpful if you are having a difficult time deciding which subject is right for you.

2. Understand prerequisites and time commitments

Once you select a degree you’d like to pursue you need to be aware of the prerequisites and time commitments that are associated with that degree. While the prerequisite for a lower-level degree, such as an associate degree, may only be a high school diploma or GED, an online master’s program—which could take up to 5 years to complete—will require a bachelor’s degree first.

In fact, you may discover that the major you are interested in requires a comprehensive hands-on educational experience that can only be had in an on-campus college setting. Fully understanding the prerequisites and time commitment you will face in obtaining your degree is a necessary part of the online college selection process.

3. Determine online college credibility

Once you’ve determined your course of study and found a number of online colleges with programs that appear to meet your goals, the next step is to make sure that the online institution has been fully accredited. Accreditation by a well-respected agency assures you that the training and knowledge you are receiving is up-to-date and will be accepted and respected by potential employers.

4. Determine what credits are transferable

Whether you have earned credits from a prior college, or expect to transfer credits to another college in the course of completing your degree, it’s important to determine whether those credits will be transferrable. Many colleges will only accept credits transferred from schools that have been accredited by the same agency. Assuming that a selected college will accept your credits could cost you more time and money to earn your degree than you anticipated.

5. Check reviews and rankings

In selecting an online college to enroll in, it’s important to know that particular institution’s reputation. Looking up reviews, especially by students, can tell you a lot about the quality of the programs and educational experience that the school has to offer. If the majority of student reviews don’t seem favorable to the school you’re considering you may want to think again.

Online college rankings by respected agencies will also give you an idea of the college’s reputation. These rankings are typically based on the public’s general perception of the school, along with a comparison of the quality of education that various schools provide.

6. Tuition costs

Just as the tuition costs of traditional brick and mortar colleges vary, the same holds true for online colleges. If you have limited funding for your education, be sure to fully research the tuition prices for the schools you’re considering. Keep in mind that just because an education costs more at one school than at another, it doesn’t necessarily make it better. In addition, some online colleges may offer financial aid.

7. Career resources

Although finding an accredited and highly reputable college through which to obtain your degree is critical, don’t let the search end there. To help you compete in an increasingly competitive job market you should also look for a college that has the career resources to help you find the right job for your new qualifications.