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I am considering taking online college courses. Will potential employers accept these as legitimate college credits?

An increasing number of students are hoping that the answer to your question is yes. Online education has surged in popularity over the past decade. According to the Society for Human Resource Management, employers’ views of online education have greatly improved during the past few years. Not all online degrees are viewed equally however, and it is important to do your homework before selecting a program.

With over 300,000 students taking full degrees online each year and plenty more using the internet to study for part of their bachelor’s degrees, most employers will be familiar with them by now. Years ago, online degrees took second place to those earned on campus. However, the internet is now an integral part education, explains the hiring manager at a southeastern Ford dealer, so we no longer perceive much of a difference.

Before you pick a course, you should consider one in line with your future career prospects as there will be a number of factors that influence the weight of your degree. In many cases, the college you go to can be more important than the subject of the actual degree. Employers are less likely to focus on whether you studied online or not if the university offers traditional classes as well as online study options. A mix of online and traditional classes can make a difference in the student’s ability to deal face-to-face with customers, says a home improvement firm offering blacktop sealcoat. It is difficult to learn salesmanship and people skills online.

College accreditation is also important, do not even consider studying at one that is not accredited. There are a number of different accreditations which should be displayed on the university website, they should be from the major regional accreditation bodies recognized by the Department of Education. Checking that your degree course itself is accredited by the appropriated specialized accreditation body is also a good idea.

You should research the possibility of transferring credits either towards your online degree from your previous studies or from it if you only complete part of the course. Credit transfer options will vary from college to college so it pays to know where you stand before enrolling. Reviewing the curriculum is a good idea, make sure the material covered is suitable for your career choice and is equivalent to taking the same degree on campus.

Online support is a very important factor, you will need academic and administrative support from your institution. Phone calls and emails that are ignored will not be conducive to your success with studies. Call the college during business hours to make sure you actually get through to a person at the end of the line. Find out your support options and who will be helping you. The same goes for your professors, many colleges are ranked for student engagement so make sure you have access to your teachers.

Finally, avoid ‘life experience’ degrees or any college that tries to sell you a course with ‘no previous experience or studies’, or ‘guaranteed degree in a year’, they sound like scams because they probably are. A well-chosen online degree at a reputable college is just as good as one gained from a traditional campus setting. Employers will be looking at the final product, which is you.

Online learning is not the next big thing; it is the now big thing… Donna J. Abernathy.

Written by Suzanne Hite, former publications editor serving the technology services sector.

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Scholarship Media provides content for the “Ask the Experts” columns.