Higher education, colleges, and universities have changed over the last few years, and a considerable proportion of these changes has been their move online as well as the change to hybrid, blended and remote institutions of higher education and learning.
Regardless of the type of institution and whether it is offered online, in person, or as a remote offering, there are certain things that you must look for and have in any training and education that you choose.
The following article provides a clear list of the top ten things to tick off your list when looking for your next higher educational adventure.
1. Accreditation and registration
One of the first things to look for in a higher education qualification is the accreditation. If you aim to use the qualification in a professional capacity, then it will need to be recognized by the specific industry that you hope to study and work in. Accreditation is the process of quality assurance that colleges, universities, and educational institutions or courses sign up to from organizations or boards that set educational standards. The importance of the accreditation is that it sets and notes the quality standards for the education provided. There are searchable online databases to see if a college or university is accredited and by who. Generally, colleges and universities are keen to share and market their accreditation, so it should not be a struggle to find it, and if it is, then perhaps look elsewhere for the course that you want.
2. A clear career pathway/study pathway
Anything that you choose must present a clear study pathway allowing you to build on the qualification. The general means of entry will be the bachelor’s or an undergraduate degree that you can build with a number of credits and a variety of course opportunities. This will form the basis of all future university or college study and any in-service training. Your choice of undergraduate course will to a substantial extent determine what you can study next and, in fact, where you will end up working.
It is thus also imperative to look at the defined career path in terms of the opportunity and the probability of being able to build a sustainable career based on the choice of study. Whichever school, college, or university you decide on, it must provide you with some clear guidance and direction in this regard, the bachelor’s degrees must be explained, and the possibilities that exist based on this study noted clearly for prospective students to be able to plan accordingly.
3. The campus experience
Whether it is a hybrid form of study whereby the remote, online form of study dominates, or one where the traditional lecture system is the main way of learning, there should be a good campus experience, virtual and physical. This is about how the students interact with the institutions of learning, the materials, mode of learning, other students, and the instructors and lecturers.
A large part of the learning process is about the relationships and interactions over the learning material, but also simply the social connections that are made.
There has been a lasting assumption that the virtual campus cannot provide the same experiences, but this is changing, and the inclusion of improved meeting and teaching technology allows for a much more interactive experience offered by online and remote learning institutions.
Not all learners leave home even if they attend brick and mortar institutions, and the number of learners who only access their learning material, classes, and social connections online has risen dramatically.
4. What other students think
There are many different places to look for feedback from students on degrees, universities, or schools. Many university websites provide testimonials from previous students, but these can sometimes be biased as they are unlikely to include negative feedback or experiences. You can use social media apps or platforms to find feedback directly from students, but this could also be biased negatively towards an institution or focus only on one specific event rather than providing a more holistic overview about various aspects of the higher education experience.
There are a number of student review websites that provide specific, sometimes uncensored or unmoderated reviews about universities and colleges across the country. In addition, you could skip the process of sifting through reviews yourself and leave that up to a rankings website that uses reviews as one of the ranking factors. For example, the US News and World Report Best Colleges ranking evaluates almost 20 000 degree-granting institutions across 17 measures of academic quality. These kinds of rankings provide a holistic overview of a range of different universities and take into account factors that you may not have considered before, like per-student spending or graduate indebtedness which allows you to assess how much an institution meets the financial needs of its students without them having to incur a loan.
5. What employers think
The statistics speak for themselves when it comes to the view of employers and higher education. Research shows that in 2020, those with professional degrees had the highest weekly salaries compared to those with master’s degrees. Those with a diploma were likely to have the lowest weekly wages. This speaks volumes about the way employers value a good degree. Beyond this, finding feedback from employers about specific institutions of higher learning and which they value most is important in determining where to study.
Before choosing a place to study, you must be able to see what employers and organizations feel about previous graduates and the skills that the qualification brings with it. Although there is now a recruitment trend for employers to do their own internal recruitment testing, it’s the degree and previous higher education qualifications that get you in the door. Ensure that yours are from a recognized and accepted institution.
6. Clear costings and pricing/fees
An education can be extremely expensive, and for many, it is something that needs to be budgeted for well in advance. As such, the costs of the courses that you are looking at and comparing need to have their costing clearly stated and explained on the website or brochure and prospectus for you to be able to make an informed decision. Also, be sure to inquire about any additional fees, such as admin fees and registration costs. A fitting example is how Elmhurst University breaks down the costs per credit and then provides an overall estimated cost for the course. This allows you to plan your finances and be able to additionally plan your course needs.
Price flexibility in terms of this method of cost per credit is also one that works extremely well for those looking to change their career and make a steady move to another career or role.
7. Flexibility, timewise
For many who are taking their studies to the next level or changing careers and studying something to upgrade their skills, the biggest drawcard of any course will be the flexibility afforded.
Flexible study or learning is whereby the study is freed from constraints of time, place, and pace of the study. This is primarily a result of distance learning and the new normal of remote and virtual learning for all levels of education. However, this practical flexibility also now extends to the fact that with the online course, learners can now enter and exit the education system in a much more flexible manner due to the type of courses, assessment choices, and educational resources.
Modern students are generally trying to juggle a number of different responsibilities and tasks, so flexibility to access education as and when it is convenient is a key to how higher education is changing.
The online course has done the most to afford this holistic flexibility, and it is such flexibility that has made the online course so popular.
Whichever course you choose should meet the level of flexibility that you require for a decent work-life study balance.
8. Clear entrance requirements
Knowing exactly what the criteria for entrance are and what academic background you need to have for the courses on offer is key. Any institution that you are looking at should have this information front and center on the pages related to the courses you want to do. Each institution in the US will have its own entry requirements, and as such, you need to be clear as to what is required and at which point in the admissions process to secure your place at the college that you want to attend.
There is generally a standardized entry exam for colleges and universities in the US, and these can be booked and planned for well in advance.
Furthermore, the entry requirements may differ even at the same college based on the major that you want to take. Generally, the higher your grades and test scores, the easier it will be to get into the top colleges in the land or on the web.
As an international student, ensure that any additional requirements are made clear from the outset. Tests such as the ACT’s or TOEFL, as well as those to prove the ability to use and learn in English, may also be necessary.
You must be able to access this information from the get-go when making a college choice. There have been many a new student who is disappointed that they have paid and signed up for a course only to find that they don’t have sufficient SAT points to complete registration. There is a general entrance or admission exam for all applicants, and these will generally be set in accordance with the courses applied for and aim to prove competency as well as to determine if there is additional support required for the learner.
9. Accessibility and communication
Even hybrid and remote learning institutions will require you to go onto campus. Depending on the types of course you intend to do, the accessibility of the institution and where it is based may be of utter importance. If, for example, you are doing a nursing course that will require you to undertake a placement or practical training, then having access to the campus and the place of work is something that you have to consider.
The school, college, or university that you choose must also prove their communication, in that you don’t want to sign up for an online course that will require effective communication with an institution that struggles to communicate timeously.
10. A relatable ethos and culture
The institution that you choose should have a recognizable and relatable ethos and defined learning culture that you are able to buy into and get involved with. Even the online institution that you choose must have a feeling of inclusion and a clear culture. The ethos of learning and culture will serve to define your experience at the institution, and you should be clear as to what you are getting yourself into. Even the online educational setups will need to have an ethos of learning, development, and inclusivity to make their teaching worthwhile. There must be mutual respect, support, and cooperation between and among learners and staff. There must also be a solid reputation or an attitude of excellence towards learning and education that is evident before you sign up to study anywhere.
The increase in online learners has been dramatic over the last two years. Higher education and graduate study are on the increase as many look to keep pace with the constant flux in the jobs market, and universities and colleges across the globe are seeing growth. This demand is also capable of being met online, and thus the growth in higher education and studies is seen as sustainable and likely to be long term. The number of institutions has proliferated to meet these demands, and the number of learners is growing. If you’re in the market for a new career or are thinking of what to study next, this article has provided some clear steps and tips to look for in an institution and how to find the right higher education.