Meeting with an Enrollment Advisor
An enrollment advisor can be an incredible resource when choosing from a very small list of worthy schools. An enrollment advisor (sometimes also called an admissions counselor) should be able to provide any information you might want about the school, from graduation rate to course flexibility to financial aid concerns. You can begin asking questions of enrollment advisors as soon as you’ve narrowed your list down to accredited schools that offer the programs, flexible scheduling and financial aid options that put it in the running for your short list.
When talking to any advisor with the college, it’s important that you feel comfortable and welcome to ask questions. If getting information is difficult, answers are vague or sketchy, or the advisors seem to be avoiding you, that gives you an idea of how things will go when you actually enroll. On the other hand, the enrollment advisor shouldn’t be overly enthusiastic and try to “sell” the school as if they were pushing you into a time-share. Enrollment advisors who are representing reputable schools will let the facts speak for themselves.
When it’s time to apply, the enrollment advisor can give you tips on what it takes to get into the school, help you with the application process and provide you with assistance at every step along the way. Once you’re accepted, they can put you in touch with those who can help you with financial aid concerns, transfer credits and other pertinent points of getting started.
Looking at Online College Rankings
College rankings are a very important tool when narrowing down the options for online schools. There are rankings that focus on almost anything; for instance, you can find rankings based on which school has the best programs in a particular field, the best campuses in a particular state, the best performers in financial aid, or even the best schools for transfer students. Rankings can provide clear, up-to-date information that allows you to look at the facts with a critical eye.
But it’s important to remember that rankings are not the final word in which school is really “best.” What’s actually best is the school that fits your needs. So while you should definitely take rankings into account, use them as a basis to inform your further research in narrowing down the schools to only those that are truly best for you and your educational goals.
Explore our college rankings based on a variety of subjects.
From the Expert
Mark Harvey is the graduate program director at the University of Saint Mary where he teaches international political economy and global management. He is the author of Celebrity Influence: Politics, Persuasion, and Issue-Based Advocacy. Follow him on Facebook or Twitter @DrMAHarvey.
We asked Dr. Harvey what students should care about when it comes to choosing an online school.
One fundamental division in graduate schools is the question of profit versus non-profit institutions.
Colleges aim to educate. Having said that, money is a driving force in all institutions. They don’t stay open if they can’t pay their bills. Non-profits justify their existence by meeting budgets and avoiding losses. For-profits are motivated by annual increased revenues.
There are some for-profits that might be ethical in their practices. There may be non-profits that are concerned about growth and profits over education. In short, students need to be aware that good educational institutions will not treat them as customers. They are the product. A good university turns out a student who is smarter and better prepared for the job market than when they started. I would be extremely wary of universities whose basic business plan involves massive money spent on prime time advertising instead of investment in programs and services for students. In general, the best universities are those that you won’t find with huge campaigns. They will be long established, reputable institutions.
Quality of faculty is also important.
Most online institutions employ adjuncts to teach their classes. They are in some ways a sign of quality, because they are usually professionals and managers in their field. However, it is also important that they have excellent credentials. I would ask any administrator what the educational requirements are for hiring instructors, and how many full-time professors they have teaching their classes. If the answer is zero, then they probably aren’t running a quality organization. I’m not married to a ratio, but I do think that a quality online program will have at least some full time, tenured, PhDs on their faculty. If not, that’s a red flag.
Access and communication are crucial.
I’m the graduate director, but I’ll take any student phone call on any issue. I may not be the first person they reach, but I will go out of my way to make sure my students get a quality experience. Students need to have easy access not just to student services and enrollment personnel, but also to people who can fix problems for them if they experience them. This is a virtual environment. Most of them don’t walk into my office, but they need to know that I’m there for them. In addition, students need to ask to make sure that faculty will be easily accessible and able to provide help.
Ultimately, a lot of this comes down to intangibles…comfort level, areas of interest, and following one’s passion.
I’d ask any student, what do you love? Why are you here? Can I give you what you need? I turned away a student recently because they loved economics and we don’t have a master’s degree in that. I might talk about their job prospects in whatever area they love, but I’m not going to try to push them into something that isn’t going to be a good fit for them.