By Jenna Moede
When you marry a military member, you commit to a lifestyle that sets certain limits. Educational opportunities for spouses are not one of them.
When colleges began moving their classes online, the world opened up for students like military spouses who need their school to follow them from place to place.
And every day, online colleges become better at offering students a typical college experience, without ever setting foot on campus.
The first step is touring the school, on foot if you are at a brick and mortar campus, virtually if you plan to attend online.
To start, just as you would with a traditional campus tour, make sure you know what you want out of a college.
When I planned my traditional campus tours, I wanted answers about the size of the universities, the number of undergrad students and typical class sizes, but when I choose my online undergraduate school, I didn’t shop around or take those same questions into consideration.
Don’t do what I did. Make sure you have your list of questions for each university so that you can find answers to your concerns. Decide what matters most to you before you begin your online tours.
After you know what you want, you can start looking into different schools. You might have some in mind or you might have to do some digging to find a list of schools, but once you have narrowed your choices, start simple and visit the school websites.
Try to note your first impression of the website. Online classes demand you spend a lot of time with the website so really look at it and consider how well you like it.
Make notes about the website, ease of use, format and overall user friendliness. Take a quick scan of the menus, contact information and basics that the homepage offer. All of the initial observations will help you build further thoughts on the school.
Next make sure you request information. Even if you don’t have strong feelings toward the school, college tours pass out informational packets and they typically contain valuable information.
Sometimes colleges with online programs mail the packets, others send them electronically. Either way, hold off making any decisions until you have examined the information the college provides.
Also, reach out to the admissions team. They may contact you when you request information or you may have to make contact with them, but they can often answer simple questions or provide you with direction for more specific needs.
After you have read through the information that the college provides, you need to learn about the online platform that the college uses. Like I mentioned before, you will spend a lot of time online and with the website, and knowing about the online platform before committing can help you make a decision.
You might not have access to login, but you can usually click on the student portal and at least get an idea of what you will use if you choose that school. Look around and click some of the links so that you can see how the online platform could fit with your needs.
Next on your online tour, learn everything you can about the school. Build off of what you discovered in the informational packet and learn more about the history of the school and the university specialties.
You can also look into statistics like student retention rates and actually tuition costs for each specific program.
Make sure you dig on the website to answer any lingering questions about accreditation or the university policies that may concern you.
After you feel comfortable with the university, start to learn about the student resources offered by the school.
This can include anything from tutor centers to full online library access. These tools can make a huge educational difference, and you will not regret looking into them before committing.
Along with student resources, look into extracurricular activities that the university offers to students. Find out if the school hosts seminars online, if they broadcast speakers online for their students, and what other events and clubs you can join.
Find out if the school offers clubs or professional connections for your field or dream job. Often colleges will have professional chapters you can join depending on your major, focus or concentration.
Next you need to look into financial options accepted by your school. Consider the cost of tuition along with other costs like books, lab fees and access fees. Also, find out what types of funding the university accepts.
Additionally, I recommend looking into school specific scholarships or program specific scholarships. This types of scholarship can also help you determine whether or not the university specializes in working with military affiliated students.
This type of information can make a huge difference for you when looking at how to pay for school and may ultimately help you choose a school. Some schools offer more military benefits, and scholarship money, than others.
Along the same lines, take a look at the college’s social media pages. You could find reviews from real students, new and upcoming events from a Twitter feed, or great resources in a blog. You may even have the opportunity to connect with current students or alumni to get direct reviews.
Lastly, look into graduation policies. Find out if you have to pay to apply for graduation, if you will have requirements for graduation, and if you will have an opportunity to walk for graduation, if that interests you.
Additionally, you can research whether or not the university helps with career counseling and job databases after graduation.
If at the end of the process, you have any lingering questions, ask them. You might discover a deal breaker or something better than you imagined, and you will feel more confident with your decision if you don’t leave anything unanswered.
Just because you don’t physically attend class on campus doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy hunting for the right school. Remember that you might not find the school that checks every single box, but you can find the best fit for you and the place you will feel the most comfortable.