When it comes to selecting property, there's on old real estate mantra that goes, "Location. Location. Location."

Well, when it comes to selecting an online degree program, you could say something similar.

"Reputation. Reputation. Reputation."

According to a recent report – the "Online College Students 2013: Comprehensive Data on Demands and Preferences"– the single most important feature that matters most to students when selecting an online degree program is a school's overall reputation.

Affordable tuition is important. So is no set class meeting times, as well as the amount of transfer credits that are accepted.

But reputation trumps everything else. And the quality that contributes most to a college's reputation is accreditation.*

The report was published by The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research, and reveals the results of "the country's only annual national survey of online college students." The survey comprised 1,500 students who are currently enrolled or planning to enroll in a fully online program.

Online features that matter

For the survey for the Online College Students Report, participants were able to choose the top three features that matter most when selecting an online program from a list of more than 20 factors. According to participants, the top five most important program features were:

  • Overall reputation of the college or university: 44%
  • No set class meeting times: 38%
  • Tuition and fees: 35%
  • Amount of transfer credits accepted: 32%
  • A personal academic advisor who contacts me regularly: 31%

Accreditation is paramount

Since reputation was also the most important factor in selecting an online degree program when the survey was conducted in 2012, a question was asked this year regarding the factors that influenced reputation.

When asked to select three factors that contribute to a college's reputation, survey respondents clearly indicated that accreditation is the most important criteria.

Some of the factors contributing to reputation are:

What accreditation and reputation mean in the "real world"

Katie Jalwan is an advisor working with students in Saint Leo's online business administration degree program. She has also taken plenty of online courses, herself, as she works towards an MBA degree. Prior to becoming a student advisor, she worked in admissions where the number one question she would get from students concerned the difference between regional and national accreditation.

Katie recalls the dilemma of one student she counseled who boasted a 4.0 GPA and thought his academic record would make him a strong candidate for a highly regarded law school. His application was denied because the institution where he had earned his bachelor's degree was nationally accredited instead of regionally accredited.

"It was a heartbreaking situation," said Katie. "His choices were to either forget the idea of law school or retake his entire degree at a regionally accredited university. Unfortunately he gave up on his dream of law school and decided to look for a master's program that would accept his diploma from a nationally accredited university, which is difficult to find.

In addition to having serious consequences that can affect one's acceptance into graduate school, accreditation can also affect one's job prospects.

"Companies are not only validating whether a potential candidate graduated from a university, but they are also making sure the university is properly accredited," she said.

"I recently assisted someone who had offered a job to someone and wanted some guidance in checking out the candidate's college degree. After helping her with some research, we determined that the candidate had not attended a legitimate university and the offer had to be rescinded.

"So the lesson is read the fine print. Realize what you are getting into. When deciding where to further your education and build your future, make sure you are selecting the best foundation possible.

What do you think is the most important criteria in choosing an online university?

Saint Leo University is accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate, baccalaureate, masters, specialist, and doctoral degrees. Degree-granting institutions also may offer credentials such as certificates and diplomas at approved degree levels. Questions about the accreditation of Saint Leo University may be directed in writing to the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA 30033-4097, by calling (404) 679-4500, or by using information available on SACSCOC’s website (www.sacscoc.org).

Other posts you may be interested in reading:

Choosing An Online Degree Program: 9 Do's And Don'ts

Buyer Beware: Accredited Online Degree Programs Vs. Diploma Mills

Choosing Regionally Accredited Online Degree Programs Matters


Image Credit: gerios