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    College At A Distance
    Jennifer Hall
  Thomson Peterson's

You chat with friends online. You study online. You game online. Could you actually go to school online? It's definitely something to think about!

Not so long ago, images of old brick buildings dominated our concept of a college campus. That's changing, and fast. As schools take advantage of technology, the classroom is becoming a much larger domain ­ one that extends well beyond a single building.


    The distance learning advantage  

Accredited distance learning programs are just as real as the ones you'd attend at the school. (Accreditation is essential, especially if you plan to transfer credits later.) You'll have professors, there will be other students, and there will definitely be assignments. As for earning your degree, you can go for professional certification, an associate's, or your bachelor's. (Master's programs and a limited number of doctoral programs are also offered.)

The big advantage is flexibility. Let's say you have to work full time while you go to school. Or perhaps you're eying a school 500 miles away, but can't move. Distance learning lets you pursue your goals while overcoming obstacles that sometimes keep students from being able to enroll.

You can also go to class in your pajamas without getting weird looks!


    How it works  

Distance learning programs include print-, audio-, and video-based courses, but are increasingly administered online. Some online classes require you to logon at specific times. Others are less structured, allowing you to "go" whenever ­ but slackers beware! To make the grade, you'll have to do the work.

As you might expect, e-mail is huge when it comes to chatting with professors. Many set up virtual office hours, when you can ask questions or seek help. A well-run program will never leave you without the chance for one-on-one time, if you need it.


    Next steps  

The Internet is the perfect place to start looking into distance learning programs. Online searches, like the one at Petersons.com, allow you to sort through thousands of options by the criteria that matter most to you. School Web sites also offer great information.

You'll quickly find that you have a lot of choices ­ perhaps even more than you expect, since geography's not a factor. While looking for the right fit, keep the following in mind:

  • Assess the quality of the program
  • Consider what financial aid will be available
  • Make sure you have the required equipment
  • Avoid "diploma mills"; their degrees aren't worth anything

Enjoy your search!

Jennifer Hall is the Web Content Manager at Thomson Peterson's (www.petersons.com,) a leading provider of live, online, and print educational solutions for students, families, schools, and educators in the areas of test preparation, admissions, financial aid, and career guidance.

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