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The Truth About Online Education.

Richard Naimy, the former search engine optimization program manager with Los Angeles-based Apollo Interactive, had always promised himself he'd go back to school. He'd earned an associates degree from a trade school after high school and another associates degree in business economics from Los Angeles Valley College, but he really wanted a bachelors degree.

Then life got in the way of his dream. He got a good job, got married, and started a family, but getting a bachelors degree was always in the back of his mind. 'Someday,' he thought.

A year ago, Richard made a commitment to himself to begin earning that degree. He investigated area business management programs and was about to enroll in night school. Sure, it would be tough to balance work, school, and a family, he thought, but he was ready to try and squeeze it all in. Until he talked to his friends and family.

Several of Richard's friends were taking college courses online and couldn't believe he was signing up for a traditional program. Even his sister-in-law had earned both her bachelors and master's degrees in Education online.

'Why not go to school online?' they all asked. Soon, he was asking himself the same question. Why not go online? So he did a little more research.

Surprising findings

Richard's research turned up a number of surprises. Not only are online degree programs considered legitimate, many of the most prestigious universities in the country offer courses online.

He also learned that universities specializing in online education frequently have higher teaching standards than traditional programs. One online college required its instructors to have a masters or doctorate degree to teach there.

The university's courses are accredited, its teachers have years of real-world experience, and students have the option of attending class on any of the university's physical campuses or online.

Once he enrolled, he got some more surprises. 'I thought it would be easier than it is,' says Richard. In fact, many of his online courses have been more difficult than the traditional ones he previously took.

Flexible hours

However, the best surprise was that 'I can do it anytime,' he says. There are participation requirements that encourage student input and dialogue - in most classes, you need to post at least twice a day for four days within the week. But that participation can occur anytime - before breakfast, on a work break, at lunch, at home after work, in the evening once the kids are in bed, or late at night. 'It's so flexible.' Richard even managed to stay on top of his online college classes during a family vacation.

Challenging requirements

To see what you know, most courses require a weekly 1500-word paper. Another surprise - Richard appreciates those papers. 'I get more out of the classes because there's more essay work - you have to be very familiar with a topic to be able to write 1500 words about it.'

'At the end of the five-week class, you feel like you really know the material. On top of the essays, there are also online postings, team assignments, and discussions. Learn more about online classes and how it works!'

Part of a team

Most online students are working adults facing similar challenges and family demands. Many are members of the military, some even completing their courses while on duty in Iraq. Yet no matter what their location, 'there is great teamwork with other students,' says Richard.

Fast-paced

Richard's goal is to complete his degree in two years. To do that, he's taking one class at a time. While everyone's pace is different, Richard invests a total of about two hours a day on his classes.

Financial aid available

Like most traditional colleges and universities, online colleges offers qualifying students financial aid. These can include loans, grants, long-term financing, and employer funding.

Additionally, if Richard elects to continue to pursue a MBA in E-Business, he'll receive a tuition discount.

'If I went to a traditional program, I would never see my kids. Attending and online college has been a great experience I recommend it every chance I get,' says Richard.

Marcia Layton Turner is a freelance writer based in Western New York. Her work has appeared in BusinessWeek, Black Enterprise, and Entrepreneur, among many others.

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