How to Determine the Best Value in Online Colleges

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How to Determine the Best Value in Online Colleges

Determining the best value in an online college for you can be a tricky thing. Value means monetary worth, so tuition, fees, and program length are very important to consider. But value also has another, more personal meaning. Value is also about your online degree’s importance and worth in your life. In other words, to get the best value in online colleges, you need a degree that is affordable but also offers the classes you need to advance toward your goals.

With this in mind, when you start to assess the best value in online colleges, start with yourself.

What's a valuable degree for you? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why are you considering earning a degree?
  • Are you seeking a start in a career?
  • To switch careers?
  • Advance your career?
  • Continue your education?
  • Where do you want to be in five years?
  • What job offer would you like to receive?
  • What news would you be proud to share with your family and friends?

Answering these questions can help you decide what degree you should pursue. Some quick searches should help you find a few programs to compare, and that is the first step to establishing which school would be the best value in online colleges for you.


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Determining the Best Value in Online Colleges: The Academic Program 

Let’s say you decided you want to switch careers and you want to earn an online Bachelor's Degree in Cybersecurity to join that dynamic and in-demand field. You found three or four online bachelor's degree programs to compare.

Here are some things to consider when determining which is the best value:

  • Is the program accredited by all of the necessary accrediting boards?

If you're not sure what to look for, search for the #1 ranked on-campus program in your area of study, and see how that program is accredited and who has accredited that program. 

  • Are the instructors reputable and experienced?

Do a quick internet search. Are they mentioned anywhere in their field, or do they have any publications listed on the university program's website?

  • What do graduates of the program say?

Are there quotes or testimonials on their ads, social media, or website from real people? 

  • Can you find any graduates from that program in your chosen field?

If not, it may be a new program, and that's okay, but look for other graduates from the university as a whole just so you can confirm that it's an established institution.

  • Are the courses clearly laid out in your degree plan?

You don't want to be stuck taking classes that wind up not counting or don't help you meet your goals. Take a look at the class descriptions and see if they're a good fit for your goals. 

  • Is the program narrow or broad?

A degree with too tight a focus may limit career options, but a degree that's too broad won't prepare you to start your career.


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Determining the Best Value in Online Colleges: The University

  • Look for rankings and online reviews. 

The program might look pretty good to you, but remember that you're joining a college community, even if you never step foot on campus. Read reviews, and although you should take them with a grain of salt, consider anything that's a repeated complaint or anything that raises a big red flag for you. 

  • Consider the quality and reputation. 

When you run an internet search for the school you're considering, what comes up? Is the school known for a certain academic program, such as a law school or engineering school? Are any of their professors in the news? Does the school have an alumni network?

  • Price compare, even if you're not considering other schools. 

If you had boundless time, perfect grades, and endless money, what university would you want to attend? Look up tuition rates in your area and average tuition rates at other schools you might admire, then compare. Don't forget to factor in fees, too. 

  • See if you can find alumni on social media. 

A quick search on LinkedIn or even Google should pull up profiles of people who have attended, are attending, or who have graduated. You don't need to take a deep dive here, but see what information is public. What can you deduce about their career? If you are comfortable and think you won't be imposing, try reaching out if possible and see if they'd be open to answering some questions. Don't let this be your deciding factor- after all, people don't have to be completely honest online. But you may make connections!


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Determining the Best Value in Online Colleges: Cost

  • How much does the program cost?

Tuition is always going to be your first stop when you start comparing the best value in online schools. Be sure you're clear on whether you'll be paying in state, out of state, or a different tuition rate entirely, as different universities have different policies. If you're looking for a master's degree or PhD program, make sure you're looking at graduate tuition. If you're not sure, don't be afraid to ask. If the information is not readily available or if you can't connect with someone who will answer your questions, that may be a red flag. 

  • How much are the fees, and are their purposes clear or easy to find out?

Tuition will not be your only expense. Non-tuition university fees range from hundreds to thousands of dollars and are almost entirely dependent on the university itself. They can also change from year to year, and may include extra fees if some of your classes are on campus, or you have a specific type of lab. Don't be afraid to ask.

  • Is the school the lender?

Some for-profit online schools boast extremely low tuition rates but are happy to give you the loans themselves. This can be a bait and switch that gets you stuck in a debt cycle that may be hard to get out of. A general rule of thumb is to look for grants, then federal loans, then private loans. The goal of the university you attend should be to educate you, not loan you money. 

  • How many students are taking advantage of need-based financial aid?

A few clicks into a search should deliver data about need-based financial aid and something called a "social mobility score." Those statistics can help you determine the best value in online colleges, because if a university has a high percentage of students using need-based financial aid and also boasts high graduation rates and good programs, their degrees are probably a good value. If people with lower incomes can succeed there, the cost/benefit ratio is probably favorable overall. 

  • Using grants?

If you're receiving Federal Student Aid, you want to make it stretch. If you're receiving other aid, such as scholarships or military aid, consider the terms necessary to hold onto it until the end of your program, and how much of your tuition and fees it actually covers. 

  • Using loans?

Think about the interest rate and loan terms. Federally funded loans come with low interest rates and are generally easy to consolidate, which makes repayment over time a lot easier. However, some private loans have terms that require payment while you're still in school. Keep that in mind when deciding how much you'll need to borrow, and how long it'll be before you can start making payments. 

  • Using the GI Bill®?

Military benefits can take away a lot of financial worry from a student, but can be complicated for a university. When considering value, see if the school you have in mind has a history of working with students who are military members, veterans, or military dependents. It'll make things go a lot smoother for you if they know what they're doing.


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Determining the Best Value in Online Colleges: Timelines

Money is an important commodity, but your time is also valuable. Consider your time carefully when determining the best value in online schools. You'll want to know the overall program timeline, but you'll also want to know things like

  • are class times flexible?
  • how long is a semester?
  • will you have to journey to labs or testing centers during the program?

Consider how attending college online will interrupt your current commitments, what can be dropped, and what needs to work around your schoolwork. Will you have to miss shifts to attend class or do schoolwork? Will you be able to pay yourself back for those lost wages?

Do a cost/benefit analysis. Will your degree prepare you for any necessary licensing exams you'll have to take before you can practice professionally, or will there be necessary study after you graduate? What courses in the process of your program can you immediately implement into your job to increase your earning potential now? All of these things are important to take into account when considering value.

Determining the best value in online colleges may seem like a lot of work, but few things in life are as worth it as this. Your online degree can and should change the course of your life, and it's important you make the right decision and not waste any time or money.

If you're interested in exploring ODUGlobal's programs, please visit for more information. 

ODU is approved to offer GI Bill® educational benefits by the Virginia State Approving Agency. GI Bill® is a registered trademark of the U.S Department of Veterans Affairs (VA). More information about education benefits offered by VA is available at the official U.S. government website at

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