We earn a commission from brands listed on this site. This influences the order and manner in which these listings are presented.
Advertising Disclosure

How to Pick the Online College Fit to Your Goals

Yashna Wahal
Online degrees are educational programs that you can complete partially or entirely through a remote learning format. They cater to those who want to pursue further education while balancing their career, family, or other commitments. They also work brilliantly for people in rural locations who are looking to access quality education.

However, with so many options to choose from, finding the right online college can feel overwhelming and confusing. That’s why we’ve created this step-by-step guide to help you consider the right factors when picking an online college to fit your goals.

Evaluate Your Career Goals

The first—and probably most important—step is to carefully think about your career goals. They’re key to determining which online degree and college you pick. For example, you may want to deepen your existing skill set, get a promotion, transition into a management position, or completely change your career path. 

Once you’re clear on your goals, evaluate your skills and knowledge gaps by looking at previous performance reviews or speaking to your manager or mentor. This way, you can better define what subjects you need to learn. Furthermore, it’s important to consider the present circumstances of your personal and professional life. 

For example, imagine a recently laid-off individual who wants to pursue further education before their next job. Unless they find an online college with suitable start dates, they could end up with a program that starts too late—leaving them unemployed and unpaid for longer than desired. Thus, without careful consideration of your current and future plans, your choice of degree or college could hamper your prospects rather than advancing them. 

Assess Degree Options Available

Online education can offer all the same programs as traditional colleges—except for highly specialized majors such as medicine, dentistry, law, and practical subjects like performing arts. Some examples of subjects and their related career paths are below. 

Areas of study

  • Business degrees are great for careers in finance, management, entrepreneurship, and more.

  • Computer science programs help to develop skills in software development and programming, etc. 

  • Healthcare degrees open doors to nursing, medical billing and coding, healthcare administration, and so on.

  • Education courses are for aspiring teachers, educators, and school administrators.

  • Psychology programs can lead to careers in counseling, therapy, or research in the field.

  • Engineering courses are great for careers in mechanical, civil, electrical, and other forms of engineering.

  • Liberal arts programs open doors for careers in creative writing, journalism, etc. 

  • And many more subject areas that cover finance and accounting, science and technology, and so on.

Some online programs let you customize courses by pursuing minors or adding elective modules. It’s critical to check whether these align with your areas of interest before picking your online college.

Program durations 

Online programs vary in length based on the degree type, program, and delivery methods. For instance, some full-time master’s degrees can be completed within one year, while part-time master's courses often require two years. Some colleges even offer accelerated options for quicker completion. 

Learning methods

Online programs employ different learning methods depending on the nature of the subject. Consider whether you’re looking for theory-based subjects or those with practical learning and hands-on experiences, like lab-based work. 

Course delivery 

Some programs offer asynchronous—meaning flexible or self-paced—delivery, while others are taught in a synchronous format that’s scheduled and interactive. Think through your preferred learning style and schedule availability carefully before making your choice.

Check the Programs Offered

Both traditional and online colleges offer full and part-time courses. The key difference is the format of delivery. Online courses may be undertaken entirely remotely or using a hybrid model that blends online and in-person instruction. Traditional college degrees usually require physical attendance. 

However, online colleges offer the same degree types as a traditional college—options are listed below. 

Associate degree

Typically a two-year program, an associate degree is optional and usually taken between a high-school diploma and a bachelor’s degree. These degrees are a great starting point for entry-level students to learn basic academic and technical knowledge in their field.  

Bachelor’s degree

Bachelor’s degrees—often called college degrees—offer students the opportunity to study a subject of their choice based on their interests and career goals. Majors are available in a wide range of subjects and provide a broad understanding of the subject’s key concepts. The course usually takes four years to complete.

Master’s degree

A master’s degree offers specialized knowledge and an intensive learning experience, typically taking one to two years to complete. You can only enroll if you’ve studied the subject at a bachelor’s level, or if you’ve had enough experience in the subject through employment. 

These degrees are great for those who want to improve their career prospects or explore other areas of interest—for instance, through broader programs like MBAs. 

Doctoral degree

Doctoral degrees such as PhDs and other professional doctorates are the most advanced types of degrees. This qualification requires significant and thorough research and can take anywhere between four and seven years to complete. Doctorates are typical to highly specialized fields such as medicine, law, science, and so on. 


These are short-term programs, usually completed in less than a year. Certificates provide specific skills or knowledge in fields such as project management, data analytics, digital marketing, etc. 

Confirm Reputation and Track Record

You might find the perfect online program to suit your needs and goals, but if the college doesn’t have high academic standards and good career support, it could be a total waste of your time and money. Consider the factors below when assessing the quality of your chosen online college. 


Look for colleges with regional or national accreditation, which indicates high standards of academic excellence. You can verify a college’s accreditation status on the United States Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs.

Graduation rate 

The average graduation rate for four-year degrees in US colleges is 64%. Online colleges are prone to lower graduation rates due to a higher number of dropouts, but if a college’s graduation rate dips too much below this average, it could spell trouble. Check the college’s official website or the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) for graduation rate data. 

Job prospects 

Ask the college’s career support department to provide you with its job placement rates for graduates. You might also evaluate the college’s student loan default rate, as high rates can indicate poor job prospects for graduates. You can find these rates on the Federal Student Aid website.

Student satisfaction rates and alumni reviews

You can find a college’s student satisfaction surveys or reports on their websites or sites such as the National Center for Education Statistics. Also, look for recent first-hand alumni feedback on social media platforms and alumni association websites. This can provide invaluable insights into colleges, their programs, and the overall learning experience. 

College rankings

Look at college rankings in impartial publications such as the annual Academic Ranking of World Universities report. But, bear in mind that college rankings can vary by program, so they may not always be a reliable data point.

Organize Your Finances

A recent report by the Education Data Initiative shows that a four-year degree from a public university costs an average of $84,348, while the same degree online costs $54,183. Similarly, you may find some online institutions offering different tuition fees for full- versus part-time programs. 

Ensure that you’re well versed with how much your degree will cost you—and don’t forget to account for textbooks, travel, and other relevant costs. Although online degrees are significantly cheaper than traditional degrees, they’re still expensive. 

Check your eligibility for these sources of financial assistance when applying for your online program:

  • Scholarships for academic achievements

  • Private or government grants for certain fields of study 

  • Federal or private student loan options 

  • Financial aid from the online institution you’re applying to 

  • Federal student aid via the FAFSA form 

  • Federal work-study programs that provide part-time employment opportunities to help cover educational expenses 

  • Tuition assistance from your current employer—especially if the degree will benefit the company

  • Tuition assistance for active military members and veterans

  • Flexible payment plans agreed with the institution


Online degrees are a great way for individuals to pursue their desired educational program in a flexible and cost-effective format. However, picking the wrong college or program can easily turn your degree from an asset to a sunken expense. That’s why it's critical to properly assess your options before picking an online college. 

First evaluate your strengths, interests, and goals so you can narrow down your degree type (for example, bachelor’s, master’s, or doctorate) and the subject you’ll major in. Additionally, it’s key to choose a program that suits your learning style and availability, offers electives of your choice, and provides good career support to help you achieve your goals. 

You’ll also want to pick a reputable and accredited college with good graduation and job placement rates. And finally, don’t forget to consider different funding options so you can get the best bang for your buck. 

Yashna Wahal
Yashna is a business and leadership writer with over 9 years experience in HR. She held the position of VP of HR at JP Morgan, London and then Head of HR at Plotify Financial in London and New York. Yashna earned her BSc in Psychology from UCL and holds an MBA from Imperial College London.