If your student is taking this path, know the details on how it works.

In my previous post, I covered the reasons why an online degree might be the right choice for your teen. Now we’ll look at how to find a college and what your student can expect once they’re enrolled.


Research colleges Creating the list of colleges where your student can earn their online degree is essentially the same process as looking for schools for a traditional degree. Sites like College Board and Naviance can guide you and your student to colleges with the program or major they’re interested in. Using that list, visit each college’s website to see if they offer an online degree for your teen’s choice of major, as well. Take the time to look carefully into the requirements and cost for the degree program and what services are available to distance learning students (see Confirm support services below).

You can also Google phrases such as “best online colleges,” “best online degree programs” or “best online college programs” and use those lists to help your student start their search. The key is doing the additional research on each college’s site to learn about the major, the online program and how well it mirrors the traditional degree program.

Check accreditation Probably the most important factor in choosing an online degree program is making sure the college and program are accredited and by the proper accrediting organization. Your student can verify a school’s status by visiting the U.S. Department of Education college accreditation site. Accreditation is usually regional. For example, colleges in the middle states earn their accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education.

If a college is not accredited, then your student runs the risk of enrolling in an inferior program and paying too much for a lesser product. Find another school.

Get the right tech Whether using a computer or tablet, your student will need a device that has the memory, speed and any other necessary hardware to run their college’s learning platform. The web-based platform is how your student will access course material, participate in class discussions and even take exams. They may need additional software loaded onto their device for writing papers and creating presentations and spreadsheets. Just like their on-campus peers, they should be able to buy hardware and software through the college, hopefully at a discount.

Adequate broadband, as in access to the Internet via a high speed reliable WiFi connection, is critical. If you’re student is streaming a lecture, it can’t freeze or repeatedly buffer, interrupting the flow. Quizzes and tests are also given online, often timed, so your student can’t risk delays or a frozen screen here either.  Wherever your student plans to do their classwork, whether it’s home, the local library or a nearby coffee shop, they’ll need a high speed reliable Internet connection. A tip: If your home tends to have spotty WiFi service, consider purchasing an Ethernet cord that your student can connect from their laptop/desktop to your home-based router, which will provide faster and more reliable service than WiFi (this is not an option for a tablet or smartphone).

The most important factor in choosing an online degree program is making sure the college and program are accredited

Confirm support services Just like the students taking their classes on-campus, yours should be assigned an academic adviser and receive assistance with financial aid, technical difficulties for both hardware and software, and access to career services. There should also be an online learning center to get tutoring and additional help with writing papers, etc. If these aren’t available to your student, then this isn’t the right program.

Access to professors is critical, too. Some students choose a distance-learning program because they don’t want in-person interaction, but they must be able to reach out to their instructor online as needed.

Understand the flexibility Some courses may require a student to be online during specific hours for class discussions or to take exams, but many more will allow a student to work at their own pace. Your student must make the commitment to manage their time well, create a schedule for their coursework and find a way to get that work completed. This is especially important if they’re juggling other responsibilities, such as a job.

When studying through an online program, a student needs to bring a level of maturity and a motivation to learn in order to earn their degree. Knowing your learning style, like what time of day you function best and how to ask for help when needed so that you don’t fall behind, are the keys to success for an online student.

Share your thoughts and advice on online degrees in the comments section below.