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What to Expect When Enrolling in an Online School

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Online education gives working adults a valuable key to unlocking a solid career, offering students thousands of degree program choices that are time-flexible, affordable and accredited.

Roughly 20 percent of all college students enrolled for classes in 2006 reported taking some kind of online course, and a survey of chief academic officers indicates that student demand for such online options keeps growing.

Terry Grant, who has helped thousands of students through the online enrollment process at American Public University, says there’s a four-stage process that students generally must take to enroll in a course of online study.

Gathering Information

Grant said students should not begin the application process until they know what they need and want from an online program.

“When the student is in the information stage, they’re more interested in finding a school that will meet their career goals,” say Grant. “We encourage students to do homework on their career first. Find companies who hire for that kind of work and see what they’re looking for in terms of education.”

Look for an online school that offers the training needed to land a specific job. Ask yourself whether you will need a degree at the end of the program and if so, how long it will take to complete. (A good rule of thumb is to expect a three-hour undergraduate class to require between 10 to 12 hours a week of study.)

Find a school that’s accredited.

The goal of accreditation is to ensure that education provided by institutions of higher education meets acceptable levels of quality. Accreditation is a voluntary, non-governmental process. However, The U.S. Department of Education formally recognizes accrediting commissions that meet all federal standards.
(Source: U.S. Department of Education)

Ask if credit hours you already have will transfer. Ask whether credits earned with this online school can transfer to other institutions. And ask whether federal student aid is available at that school.

Finally, understand what your online education will cost.

“These are the things students should be looking for when they’re shopping around for a school,” Grant said. “It’s what we talk with students about most often.”


With a school and program identified, applying for admission is next. Along with completing the application, be sure the school receives copies of transcripts or other admission paperwork as soon as possible.

“At our university, once you are accepted you can enroll for classes immediately. Students can evaluate their readiness for studying with our ‘Foundations of Online Learning’,” says Grant. “It makes students comfortable with the online learning environment and sets them up for success.”

Transferring Credits

Most incoming students will want to apply credit for previous classes or other forms of training to their new online learning program. This usually involves a fee for an assessment of the classes or training you’d like to transfer.

“Once the evaluation is done,” says Grant, “you’ll know how many credits have transferred as an elective or required class. You can save yourself a lot of time and money by getting credit for studies you’ve already completed.”

Tuition and Financial Aid

A variety of payment options are usually available for online study at an accredited school. These include:

  • Military tuition assistance, VA benefits or GI Bill funds for service members or veterans.
  • Employers’ tuition reimbursement programs may cover direct payment for tuition, or reimburse students after courses are successfully completed.
  • Federal student aid. Apply early – six to eight weeks before class starts – because the process could take as long as two months. Your school can help you with more information. You can apply online for federal aid with Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) application. If the application is approved, you’ll be notified regarding how much aid you’ll get, and how much you’ll be expected contribute immediately.

At many online schools, students may choose an automatic debit plan that allows them to split their tuition payments.  Once tuition is paid, the enrollment process is completed and class work begins.

A good online university will also have a team of well-trained admissions advisors to walk students through each step.

“We’re here to make sure this is a painless, smooth and easy process,” Grant said. “We will work with the student, the department chair and admissions advisors to make sure each student is enrolled in the best degree program possible.”

By Online Learning Tips Staff

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