How Legitimate are Online Schools?

Be informed before exploring a convenient, viable option

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womancomputerFor professionals looking to advance their career, earning a certificate or even an advanced degree could be the catalyst needed to move up the ranks. Although work and life constraints can make it hard to pursue academic endeavors, more and more working professionals are taking online classes allowing them to better coordinate their schedules around work responsibilities and their personal life.

“It’s an opportunity to change your career direction,” says Reggie Smith III, president of United States Distance Learning Association (USDLA), a nonprofit that promotes the development and application of distance learning for education and training. ”More degrees can make you more competitive. It’s also an opportunity to network with people in your field. As blacks, we don’t do that enough.”

Before you apply for admission, here are some key points to consider to get the most out of your experience.

Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Class Schedules

There are two schedules that many online courses follow. Synchronous classes happen in real time and follow a set schedule. Asynchronous classes give students more flexibility by allowing them to access posted course material and attend classes at any given time.

For professionals who prefer to have a more structured learning experience, synchronous online courses would be the preferred option. For professionals who are able to manage their work without having hard deadlines and need to have a more flexible academic schedule, asynchronous learning may better suit them.
While picking a class schedule, keep in mind that some programs require students to spend a certain percentage of time in a physical classroom.


Beware–not all online educational programs are properly accredited. Known as diploma mills, these entities have all of the trappings of an online educational institution but are really just scams. Some recurring characteristics of diploma mills are the absence of a physical location (many have P.O. box addresses), false advertising that degrees can be completed in a manner of months instead of years, and the requirement that students pay per each completed degree instead of for each course or semester.

A number of these false setups even have names similar to prestigious or well-known institutions. For example, Americus University, an unaccredited degree-granting school located in Washington D.C., has a strikingly similar name to the fully accredited American University, which is also located in Washington D.C.  Degrees from unaccredited schools are not recognized by prospective employers or other colleges and universities. Check with regional accreditation agencies or confer with your state’s education department to confirm accreditation.


There’s a public misconception that online classes are cheaper than traditional universities. In some cases they can be just as costly. Calculate costs and all related expenses before choosing the right program for you.

If money is an issue, there are a number of online destinations that provide entire courses free of charge. One such entity is iTunes U. At iTunes U, any individual can access free coursework from prestigious universities such as Stanford University and the University of Oxford, among others. Similar to purchasing songs, individuals can download lectures (video or audio files) to their iTunes library or to their MP3 player.

Check out Part II: Are Online Classes the Right Fit For You?

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  • Michael Washington

    Your article covers all of the top research points of searching for online schools. I work in the Admissions Office Strayer University and we offer both campus based and online courses. Whenever I speak with my prospective students, I discuss the exact same points.

  • Beverly Sherman

    Thank you for such an informative article. However, I have been unemployed for quite some time time, while still aggressively seeking full-time employment in a field where my extensive education and professional background can be maximized. It has been quite difficult to locate either funding or free courses to add that additional punch to my qualifications.

    What can you possibly suggest as a starting point to locate additional professional training and coursework? I know everything is tough in the current economic conditions, but any help would
    be greatly appreciated.

    Again, thank you for your suggestions, as I am receptive to exploring all avenues.

    Beverly Sherman

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  • Hey thanks for the great information on legitimate online businesses. I search the net looking for this type of content to give me ideas on future articles that I am going to write on this same general subject. Appreciated reading your article and information on this particular subject.

  • well, i was enrolled at an online school and the curriculum is quite great ~

  • although online schools are good, i think we also need human interaction which we can only get from offline schools *”‘