How to Research Online Degree Programs

Woman researching online degree programs on her laptop

You want to earn your degree or finish a degree online. That's terrific! But if you've started researching which online degree program is the best match for you, chances are you're already in an intimidating and confusing sea of search results, ads, and websites.

How will you know what advice to follow, or what questions to ask when researching an online degree program? After all, your online degree will be a huge investment of time and money. You want to go in as fully prepared as possible!

Here are six tips to clear up your search and get you on the right path.

  1. Get past the first search page
  2. Find the answers you're looking for on the school's website
  3. Make a direct connection
  4. Ask the tough questions (even the awkward ones)
  5. Look up the prospective program's accreditation
  6. Don't forget transfer credits


Search engines are helpful, but can also be overwhelming. If you search something like, "online degree programs" or "bachelor's degree in [subject]" chances are you've been hit with results that might not exactly answer your questions, such as ranking sites, and a ton of ads.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when you're looking at those search results: 

  • Ads should be clearly labeled. You don't necessarily need to avoid ads, because sponsored search results may still have plenty of answers. But you'll probably see the same handful of schools over and over depending on your geographic region and program of interest. Keep looking, even past the ads!
  • Rankings sites often show up on the first few pages of search results. Rankings can be very helpful; after all, many rankings sites do rigorous research so you don't have to, and you want to attend a high quality program. Not all rankings sites are the same, though. Try to narrow your search by program of interest, if you have one, to get more more detailed, helpful information.
  • .edu pages that show up on search results are for the schools themselves, but remember that just because a domain has a .edu address doesn't mean that the school it represents is what you're looking for. Sometimes, the highest ranking .edu sites on a search aren't even accredited, or are for-profit universities. If one stands out to you as a real possibility, do a little more digging. See if you can find reviews or what the school is really about.

Internet searching for an online degree program can bring a wealth of information and may feel intimidating, but it can also get a lot of your questions answered. You might get to page four of five of your search results before you see one that makes a connection.

If your search results don't leave you feeling satisfied, however, try other ways of looking around online! Find someone on a social media site like LinkedIn who has a job similar to the one you're working toward. If their degree is listed, look into that school and see if there's an online option.

2. Find the answers you're looking for on the school's website.

Most prospective online college students have the same question: "Is this program any good?" But they mean different things.

Some students want to know about program accreditation and alumni success in their area. Some want to know about student experience, like class flexibility and the level of help and advising available.

Almost all students want to know about application requirements and cost. If you have an online degree program in mind, these answers shouldn't be too hard to find on the school's website. There are valid reasons why these items may not be on a website. After all, tuition can change. However, it may be a red flag if you can't find something simple like tuition or student experience relatively easily.

3. Make a direct connection.

Regardless of whether all of your questions about an online degree program have been answered on a school's website, you should still make a direct connection with the school.

Most universities that offer online degree programs also have "contact us" forms on their websites, which means a representative from the university will get in touch with you. They may also list email addresses, phone numbers, or sometimes chat options. Choose the method that's most convenient for you.

Starting a dialogue with a school can get your questions answered. Interacting directly can also give you important clues about how your student experience will be with the university. For example, were you answered promptly, with relevant information, by a real human? Did that person take your particular situation into account when answering? Was the information helpful in making your decision, or just a push to enroll at their institution?

And while you have someone ready to help...

4. Ask the tough questions (even the awkward ones).

It can feel easy to hold back when talking to a university about your future plans with an online degree program. After all, the university has to accept you. You want to be polite, make a good impression, and look like a future rock star student. But remember, you also have to accept the school.

Don't hold back! Ask specific questions about anything you can't find on their website. If the answer didn't make sense, make sure you clarify. Don't stop the phone, text, or email conversation unless you feel good about what you'd be getting into as an online student.

You don't have to limit your questions to general ones about admission and tuition, either. If you have specific questions about your program, ask! The person you speak with might not know the exact answer, but they should be able to find it.

If you're concerned about finances, ask what assistance is available for financial aid or scholarships. If you're worried about balancing your responsibilities, working full time, or juggling class with your kids' schedules, ask about that too.

Just because they're personal concerns of yours doesn't mean a college or university can't help. In fact, whomever you've been speaking with has probably heard similar concerns before, and has some examples of ways students were able to manage the challenges life threw at them.

5. Look up the prospective program's accreditation as well.

Not all online degree programs are created equal. The last thing you want to do is spend a lot of time and money on a program that won't prepare you for the career or graduate degree you're hoping to achieve.

If you're looking at a specific program, check into accreditation for the related field as well as the university as a whole. If you can't find these details, add them to your list of questions to ask when you contact the college or university.

Earning a degree from an accredited college or university lends legitimacy to your accomplishment and better prepares you for your next step. Simply put, a degree from an accredited program or college looks better to employers and graduate schools. 

6. Don't forget transfer credits.

Another thing worth a second glance is your education pathway so far. If you've earned college credit at a community college or other university, you may be closer to your bachelor's degree than you think.

During the decision-making process, collect all of your transcripts, at least unofficially, from every school you attended. Your earned credits might not all transfer, but the ones that do will save you time and money!


Researching and choosing an online degree program can be a long, challenging process, but you'll be glad you took the time to make a careful consideration.

If you're looking into a bachelor's degree, graduate degree, or certificate online, consider Old Dominion University! Through ODUGlobal, you can explore more than 120 online programs to fit your busy life. Visit to learn more. 

Indicates a required field