Find Online degree programs

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Ignore the Internet static about online schools, experts say, and find the right fit.

Experts suggest that prospective students talk to professionals in their field and ask their thoughts on specific online programs.

In the world of brick-and-mortar schools, there is a fairly established path for finding and choosing a school. There are campus visits to consider, guidebooks to flip through and alumni to consult.

For prospective online students, however, finding the right program can feel like a journey into newly discovered territory. Schools announce new programs seemingly every week. And there's no shortage of websites claiming to feature the best online programs and courses.

"There is so much static out there, " says Cheryl Oliver, assistant dean for graduate and online programs at the Washington State University College of Business. "It's really hard for people to know what is a legitimate degree and what programs are just going to take their money and put them through the motions."

Below, experts share steps students can take to sift through information and find the right program.

1. Visit school websites and other verifiable information sources: Institutions are better equipped to tell their story than websites that aggregate or rank online programs, Oliver says. Many of the new sites that claim to rank or showcase a variety of schools and courses are subjective, she says. Some may even ask students to pay for information about a school – a red flag.

In many cases, she says, schools have to pay to be featured on portals. While there is nothing wrong with that, she says that means some schools get more exposure than others.

"Some schools are paying to be on every one of those sites and now they are prolific, " she says. "So students are going to continue to see that school when maybe the best bet for them is in their own backyard."

If students are eager for unbiased statistics, they can visit the U.S. Department of Education's College Navigator tool, which collects tuition, graduation rates and other data, says Todd Marshall, executive director of online learning at Regent University.

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