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Online education has exploded in recent years, and the diversity of programs and degrees offered continues to grow. Completely new, online-only colleges and universities have emerged while existing schools have also brought some of their degree programs on to the web to allow for greater accessibility. This growth of the field had created more opportunities, but also a few pitfalls. Anyone now considering pursuing their degree online must thoroughly research their options because the characteristics and quality of available programs varies widely. To better understand the differentials, we’ve compared the online offerings of three schools: The University of Southern California, Western Governors University and Southern New Hampshire University. School Profiles and Degrees Offered Each of these three schools has a different profile. The University of Southern California is a highly ranked, private, non-profit research university that offers a Master’s in Teaching and a Master’s of Social Work online program in addition to its on-campus offerings. Western Governors University, on the other hand, is a completely online university that was created in 1997 and offers both Bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs in a number of subject areas that include business and information technology. Finally, Southern New Hampshire University, like USC, is a private non-profit school with a physical campus and offers a number of undergraduate and graduate degrees through its online program. Academics Though teaching methods can vary by program, each school uses a somewhat standard approach with their online offerings. USC’s MAT program includes live online classes with small groups of students and a professor using webcam technology, documentary-style videos, online readings and tools, as well as a fully interactive online community where students can have discussions with classmates. The student-to-faculty ratio is the same as the on-campus program, and USC maintains the same high standards for professors in the online program. Instead of courses, WGU employs a competency-based approach, in which students can move past subjects they’ve already mastered by demonstrating their proficiency. Each WGU student works with a mentor who supports them during the program, which they advance through at their own pace. The mentor helps the student identify the resources necessary to build subject competency, resources which can be anything from video lectures and an online library to printed textbooks or learning modules. SNHU organizes its program around classes, which adjunct faculty instruct using materials developed by SNHU’s on-campus professors. Adapted from classes taught on campus, the adjunct professors work from a framework that can include a syllabus, readings, assignments and exams. SNHU does not appear to offer interactive online courses as USC does, but students can still interact with professors and peers through email and the Blackboard learning management system. Admissions USC has the most strict admissions standards of the three schools, and maintains the same standards for its online students and on-campus students. Applicants must submit past transcripts, a resume, three personal essays and two letters of recommendation. WGU requires applicants to take a Readiness Assessment exam rather than any standardized testing, as well as submitting transcripts and work history. SNHU has the fewest requirements with their rolling admissions process that asks for transcripts, work history and an optional interview. Alumni Networks Many online students fear they will miss out on the valuable alumni connections that on-campus students establish. At USC, however, students in the MAT program gain instant access to the USC Alumni Association, which has over 300,000 members worldwide. The Alumni Association has regional chapters and Young Alumni groups that hold events around the country and the world, and alumni serve as resources for each other through these channels. MAT@USC program members have also held their own meet-ups in major cities to become acquainted with classmates. As a younger school, WGU has fewer graduates than USC, but their ranks have already swelled to 10,000. WGU provides an online alumni association for its graduates as well as career services to help connect them with jobs. SHNU also has an alumni association, but how graduates of the online program fit in with graduates from on campus remains unclear. The three schools profiled above share some similarities and are all accredited educational institutions, but in many ways their online degrees are completely different from one another. When thinking about pursuing an education online, one must understand every school takes a different approach, so researching and comparing multiple programs is essential. This article was written by Social Media Outreach Coordinator, Sarah Fudin on behalf of CAREEREALISM-Approved Partner, 2tor - an education-technology company that partners with institutions of higher education such as USC to deliver their Masters in Teaching degree online. Read more » articles by this approved business partner | Click here » if you’re a business Online degree image from Shutterstock

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