Prospective students have many questions when choosing an online program. A new e-book from Saint Leo offers tips that are essential to finding the right path.

Lee Ann Grammer was a single mom in her late forties, working full time and raising twin girls when she decided to start an online degree program at Saint Leo University.

William Haaren, an Army sergeant with a wife and two small children at home, was deployed in Afghanistan when he made the decision.

And Miles Surdi, a 17-year old who had just completed high school, decided to continue his college education online with Saint Leo so that he could remain at home and assist his mother with medical issues.

Three individuals with distinctive lives but the same goal: to earn a college degree.

And all need the flexibility of an online program to achieve it.

Growing online student population

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in 2012, 13 percent of all college students – 2.6 million – studied fully online to earn their college degrees.

While studying online may clearly be the only option to balancing educational goals with a career, military service or family commitments, deciding which institution is best for you is not always as evident.

The options are numerous – non-profit, for-profit, career schools, liberal arts colleges – and the process complex. And with news about scandals and certain institutions leading students into heavy debt with promises of career training, it can even be a bit scary. After all, it's a serious commitment of time and money.


Students' top concerns when choosing a program

Mark Russum has worked as an enrollment counselor for Saint Leo University and now is director of undergraduate admissions for the university's Center for Online Learning.

Russum says that over the years, both universities and student needs have continued to evolve. Today, the most common concern he hears from busy working adults who want to earn a college degree is the value of their future degree in the marketplace.

"Students want to be sure – and rightfully so – that the degree that they will spend their time and money earning will be worth something in the job market," says Russum, "that it will be highly regarded by potential employers."

Prospective students are also concerned about timeliness to complete their degrees, as well as what support services they will receive while they are in school, he says.

"Many students have already started their degrees," says Russum. "And whether that was 16 months ago or 16 years, they are concerned about completing what they started as quickly as possible. They have busy lives and they just want to get it done."

In addition, students want to be sure there is a support network in place to assist them. They want to know that they can connect with their professors, or that there's someone to turn to if they have a technology issue or simply need help getting books on time.

Addressing those concerns

According to Russum, the best advice he can offer to students trying to find the right online program is do your homework and ask questions. He offers three important tips:

  • To ensure that your degree will be meaningful in the marketplace make accreditation a priority.
  • To complete your degree in a timely fashion, work with an enrollment counselor to clarify short and long-term goals and choose the right degree program.
  • And to guarantee that the school will provide the support services you need, ask the right questions.

"The beauty of a college degree is that even if you're not totally sure where you want to go in life, it gives you options," says Russum. "And what could be more beautiful in life than having options."