News Brief - 12/17/15 ST. LOUIS As 2015 comes to a close, it’s no surprise New Year’s resolutions are once again top of mind for many Missourians. For those resolving to go back to school in 2016, online education is quickly becoming one of the most popular higher education alternatives for the affordability and flexibility it offers. But, for those who have only had experience with traditional learning environments, there can be a learning curve to identify the best online college for them. To help navigate the options, WGU Missouri offers the following tips for working adults planning to pursue a degree online in 2016: Consider degree options. Those looking to return to school should make sure the degree they earn will help them meet their career objectives. This should be easy for those already working in a chosen field. For example, teachers will want to consider a master’s degree in education, and a master’s in nursing is a logical choice for someone who already is a nurse. When considering a bachelor’s degree with the goal of moving into a better, higher-paying job or a different field, it is important to choose a degree employers will recognize as relevant, like a degree in business or information technology instead of one in general studies or liberal arts. Make sure the university is accredited. The U.S. Department of Education publishes a list of nationally recognized accrediting agencies determined to be reliable authorities. Accreditation is a must-have to ensure employers and other academic institutions will respect and recognize a degree. Look into how you will learn. Most online universities use technology to distribute traditional classroom materials and include classes led by a professor or instructor with a fixed schedule and syllabus. While the classes are usually scheduled to accommodate working adults, you’ll move through the course at a set pace. Students may want to consider a competency-based approach to learning, which will allow them to move at their own pace and advance when mastery of subject matter is demonstrated. Find out what help and support the university offers. For many students, going to college online, without the interaction provided by an on-campus experience, can be a daunting prospect. Be sure to ask how you will interact with the faculty and what kind of support is available. See how connections with students will be made. Although you are choosing to go to college online, interacting with other students can enrich your learning experience and help you feel connected. Online universities are developing a number of ways for students to connect through chat rooms, webinars, social media and even hosting mixers. Explore what the school is doing to engage and connect with students. Make sure the chosen school is a reputable institution. It is important to find this out before you choose your school. Ask for information about alumni placements, employer surveys, and graduate rankings on national test scores. Consider the cost. Tuition at online universities varies widely, from approximately the same cost as a traditional public university to more than twice as much. When it comes to online universities, higher cost does not necessarily mean higher quality. That’s why it is important to understand all of the costs tuition, books, and fees before making a final decision. Whether the school is part of a privately or publicly held company or a nonprofit institution can also make a difference in cost. Many for-profit institutions offer quality programs but may charge more or dedicate more resources to marketing and recruitment than a non-profit university, making tuition costs higher. Another factor in cost consideration should be the length of time expected to complete the desired degree. The longer it takes, the more it is likely to cost. Pay attention to financing & scholarships. Depending on your income, you may be eligible for a government grant, particularly a Pell grant, to help pay for your education. A federal student loan may also be an option, but take care not to borrow more than you need or incur too much debt. Some universities will even work with you to determine the smallest amount you need to borrow. If you expect to use financial aid, be sure to find out whether the school you’re considering is eligible. And don’t forget to inquire about scholarships. “Today’s nontraditional students require a flexible and affordable college experience because they’re also juggling work and family responsibilities at the same time,” said Angie Besendorfer, Chancellor of WGU Missouri. “It’s important to do your homework to find the school that will provide the best value. WGU Missouri offers competency-based education that works for adults, provided at a low cost. We look forward to helping more Missourians go back to college as part of a New Year’s resolution that will pay off long after 2016.” In celebration of the New Year and those making the commitment to go back to school in 2016, WGU Missouri is launching one of its largest scholarship offerings to date, A New Kind of You Scholarship. Each scholarship award is valued at up to $2,000 ($500 per term, for up to four terms), and is open now through March 30, 2016, to new students in any one of the more than 50 bachelor’s and master’s degree programs offered at WGU Missouri.