FAQs for Parents & Guardians

Can I transfer credits from an online program to a traditional degree program?

With careful planning, students can transfer their online credits into a traditional degree program. Accreditation is often a critical factor in the transfer process. A traditional accredited degree program might not grant some or all of the credits earned from a non-accredited program so it is best to plan ahead.

If a student decides to transfer, it is a good idea to meet with a transfer school enrollment officer to determine if the online course credits will be accepted. Some schools have limits on the number of transfer credits they are willing to grant or accept, and others are only willing to accept credits earned with a C or higher.

What is accreditation and why does it matter?

Earning a degree from an accredited program is critical to earning a well-respected education. Accreditation serves as an important signal to future employers that the school or program met certain quality standards through an ongoing, rigorous evaluation process.

As OEDB explains, accrediting agencies do the hard work of researching academic quality for you, the consumer. They establish criteria that compares programs against standards of teaching effectiveness, academic rigor of programs, faculty qualifications, administration, support services, and learning resources. Accreditation provides an important level of oversight to ensure a school has the right tools, resources, and expertise in place.

Accreditation also has several practical implications, such as eligibility for financial aid. Many federal and state financial aid programs require students to attend accredited schools and programs in order to receive monetary support.

Accreditation can also be a factor in a student’s ability to transfer, continue their education, or obtain a job in the workforce. Many institutions of higher education place a higher value on credits earned through an accredited program, and will be less likely to transfer credits from non-accredited institutions.

Credits earned at an unaccredited school will also be valued less on a graduate school application, and may even make the student ineligible for an advanced degree program. Most employers also place greater value on an accredited degree when it comes to screening job candidates. In areas like health, medicine, or engineering, accreditation may also be required for licensure or certification.

The easiest way to confirm accreditation is to use the Department of Education’s accreditation database. The U.S Secretary of Education is required by law to publish a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies — use this list to ensure a reliable accrediting authority is determining the quality of the education or training program your student is considering. There are plenty of phony accrediting agencies out there.

Will my son or daughter have the same opportunities after graduation with an online degree?

Yes. As long as students are careful with their program selection, online degrees can be just as competitive in the job market. The reputation of online degree programs continues to gain traction among employers, and studies indicate more and more hiring managers understand the value and rigor of an online degree.

However, a few bad apples have hurt the reputation of online programs as a whole. Businesses that pose as credible degree-granting institutions, otherwise known as ‘diploma mills,’ have made some employers wary of the online degree in general.

In order to fight this reputation, students need to be selective about their online program. Online education is still relatively new, so graduates will increase their chances of being competitive and successful in the job market by selecting a degree program from a university with strong traditional and online programs. A national reputation is also helpful — a degree from Penn State Online and Penn State will most likely represent the same level of academic rigor and merit in the workforce.

The bottom line: conduct as much research as possible to determine the reputation and credibility of the program before spending thousands of dollars on a degree.

Do I need to buy my child any new software or textbooks?

A reliable, relatively new computer is essential. Either a laptop or a desktop will work, but make sure to check the program website to determine if there are specific hardware requirements.

A reliable, fast Internet connection is also important. Many programs rely on the Internet for chat rooms and video conferencing, so a cable modem or fast DSL connection is a requirement. Investing in a high-quality connection will be worth it in the long-run. A webcam or built in-camera may also be needed, but again, check with your student’s program before buying anything.

Software requirements vary depending on the type of program. In general, a word processing program such as Microsoft Office is helpful, and specific software such as Adobe Reader, Adobe Flash, and Java will be helpful for reading course materials. A good anti-virus software is often a good idea, as well.

What are the advantages of an online degree?

The advantages of obtaining a degree online are many. Cost is an important factor, since tuition at an online school is often lower than that of a traditional school. Many students save on room and board and associated costs in commuting or buying typical classroom supplies by electing to take courses online.

Flexibility is also a major benefit, since students can complete assignments and watch lectures on a schedule that best suits their needs. Students can hold down a day job and study in the evening, or vice versa.

Some students also benefit from the structure of an online degree program, away from the distractions of a traditional campus. The social setting can be hard to resist, and many first-year students see their coursework suffer as a result. The stress of living away from home for the first time and managing one’s time can also be a lot to handle. Online courses can help students work on their time management skills, adjust to the demands of the real world, and ease their way into adult responsibilities. All without wasting a year or two on thousands of tuition dollars for a student who is not quite ready for serious commitments.

Can my son or daughter work while getting their degree?

Online degree programs are designed to be just as rigorous as regular programs, and most require just as much attention and responsibility when it comes to studying and class time. So a student will still need to allot adequate time and energy to their classes.

However, the flexibility of an online program means that students can structure their study and class hours around a job. Students may have more options in terms of taking certain credit hours or spending fewer hours commuting to school — all of which can be time that is redirected to earning a paycheck.

Will my son or daughter interact with other students and professors?

Interaction, discussion, and collaboration between online classmates and faculty has never been easier with the ease of today’s rapidly developing tech. Researchers and school experts are developing tools and resources in order to bring all of the functions of a classroom into an online format.

Students often communicate through discussion boards, where they can post comments or questions about readings and assignments to facilitate discussion. Some courses enable features such as video conferencing, Skype or webcams in order to enable real-time communication and feedback.

Professors are often required to respond via email in a timely fashion, and chat features enable instant communications. Many also use social media tools to conduct conversations and lead discussion.