Choosing an Online College: What You Need to Know Before Applying to a PhD Program

PhD programs are still relatively new in the online education world, but their popularity is growing rapidly. For the past few decades, people have had less time to commit to learning in a classroom, notably because the 21st century is a faster-paced world. Learning online comes with increased convenience and reduces arbitrary travel times between home and school. It also can reduce the administrative costs of a university, thus allowing them to charge less for the same quality of education. While several fields of study fit perfectly into the online process, even at such a high educational level, there are still a few things you need to know about choose an online college.

A PhD is not for everyone, notably because at this education level, it’s very common to only meet with a dissertation advisor a few times a year. With the most appropriate information, you can best assess how to approach starting a PhD program online. There are many different ways to go about locating the best educational opportunities, but here’s how to find the best school for your needs:

#1: Verify Accreditation

Accreditation is a process where organizations appointed by the government look at colleges and their education programs and compare them to the programs being offered at other schools. If a school’s program doesn’t meet certain standards, it is not accredited. Going to an unaccredited school allows students to still take classes that may seem legitimate, but ultimately the PhD you earn won’t be recognized by state and national organizations, potential employers, and other educational institutions. Plus, there’s always the chance that you could get scammed if you choose a program that is unaccredited. You don’t want to give your hard-earned money and free time to a school that isn’t giving you a very good education. This is an integral part to the process of getting a degree online. Without accreditation, no basis has been established for measuring the effectiveness of their curriculum. Most programs you stumble across will be accredited, but it’s important to check, just to make sure you don’t waste your money.

#2: Meet Professors and Department Chairs

An important part of any PhD program is to meet the people with whom you’ll be working, for a number of reasons. Earning a PhD requires a lot of research and work, and if you don’t enjoy the same topics as those overseeing the work you do, it will be a difficult process for both of you. Additionally, these people will end up being your colleagues in the future. An interview at the PhD level isn’t one-sided; while you’re being interviewed to see if you’re a good candidate, you should also be interviewing professors and staff members to make sure you feel comfortable as well. They’re going to be an integral part to your success, so make sure the relationship seems like it will be intuitive to working together and not something that will inhibit you. Don’t be afraid to virtually tour several online colleges, it can be a good way to expand your options without leaving your computer and understand some of the more common differences between schools.

#3: Check Financial Aid Availability

As a PhD student, you will have access to financial aid at some schools, and many will even offer a monthly stipend in exchange for your research with their college. Online schools have fewer opportunities for financial aid for PhD students, but they are out there. It’s just even more important to explore more unique avenues in order to finance these opportunities. Many people still view getting a PhD online with skepticism, but you can definitely attain aid if you still have impressive credentials and have made an impact within academia. Make sure you meet, in person or virtually, with the school’s financial aid office to determine your eligibility for grants, fellowships, and other funds for students in your program. Since PhD’s are open-ended programs, it’s important to take finding aid as seriously as possible to save a significant amount of money in the long-term.

#4: Understand Program Options

When you’re working on a PhD online, it’s important to be cognizant of the differences you will face, namely with degrees that require extensive research in a lab. Not all PhD programs have yet been optimized for online education, so it’s important when research programs to identify the particularities that may be different. Many degrees in the Humanities are perfect matches due to their emphasis on writing and researching through literature and other similar resources. Also, if you haven’t taken classes online before, it’s crucial to recognize some of the large differences involved. While PhD programs in person are incredibly similar to online, advising is still probably the largest difference. PhD candidates only meet with their advisors sparingly at traditional colleges, so you can still successfully complete a PhD by meeting an advisor through video chat applications and other means.

#5: Verify Your Commitment

Getting a PhD in any manner is going to shape many facets of the rest of your life. Keep this in mind when you’re discouraged and remember that each student who has completed a PhD has struggled with many of the same trials and tribulations you’ve faced in your quest. Just as in the most testing aspects of one’s life, perseverance is a necessity to succeed.