Online College: Legit or No?

According to the most recent US Federal Reserve stats, 44.7 million Americans have outstanding student loan debt, but somehow we turn 18, go off to college, and aren’t skeptical of the system and debt trapping us also. Meanwhile just the concept of earning college credits online is the tipping point of skepticism and ridicule for so many. Why?

A little backstory, I was homeschooled. I knew from a young age that anything the neighbor kids learned at school, I could learn outside of school. Growing up and thinking of University in the same light—that it was a box I could think outside of—came more naturally for me than probably most students very used to staying within the lanes of normalcy.

Even though online college feels weird from the perspective of institutionalized college becoming the norm over the past hundred years, the TRUTH is: it’s 2019. People are employed completely online. People meet their spouses online. People can earn very respectable, fully accredited college degrees online. “Dot com” doesn’t mean it’s a scam.

What if I get tricked, though?

Sure, there are scams and gimmicks everywhere, but that goes for both online and traditional business methods.

Before shelling over your money to a third party site offering college courses, research their accreditation. Legitimate sites offering college credits should list their accreditation source, which you can verify by going to the source they list and double-checking that they’re actually listed, and not just pretending they are.

ACE accreditation is accepted at 2,200+ US colleges and universities, and NCCRS accreditiaion is accepted at 1,500+! If you are looking into a course that is not coming directly from an accredited institution (such as a university or community college), look for an ACE or NCCRS accreditation status.

Checking accreditation is also a good safeguard because there are many free college courses out there on the internet; free, but not credit granting. These are really cool resources for learning new things, but it stinks to expect college credit, then go through an entire course with quizzes and everything, and earn no credit. Maybe you learned some fun stuff; maybe you wasted 50 hours of your life. For example, sites like Coursera, EdX, HarvardX, and MIT OpenCourseWare, are really college classes, yes, but not accredited or credit granting. In other words, you can ace the material but it won’t count towards your degree whatsoever.

Accreditation from online college credit sources has never been a problem for me, personally.

I earned 26 credits from independent/third party online college credit-granting institutions (meaning they are only in the business of college credit, not actual colleges/universities, and not granting degrees of any kind). I earned an additional 26 credits from actual universities, just through their online course options (Harvard, APU, and TESU). There were never any problems with these “counting” as real college credit courses. (The details on these specific classes are all itemized in My Degree Plan.)

The only real catch is if your university will accept the credits.

And this is less of an accreditation thing, and more of a colleges-don’t-want-you-to-earn-a-lot-of-your-degree-outside-of-their-school thing. Many public and private universities/colleges choose to limit their students’ outside college credit, though every university I’ve personally researched has allowed at least 30 credits through ACE (which would include CLEPs, many courses, etc.). 30 credits is still helpful! And if you have your heart set on going to a university with a limit like this, I would still definitely take advantage of this huge opportunity to save time and money with 30 credits (about 1 year) off of your degree!

If you are looking to take “many” [30+] online classes like I did (possibly mixed with CLEP exams and such), I would highly recommend looking into the “Big Three”, because they are schools famous for their open transfer policies, allowing most of your degree to be taken through outside sources, online or otherwise. I went into this in more detail on this post.

In conclusion: yes, very legit.

Come on, guys. I know you can get this. It’s 2019 and computers aren’t just for minecraft and microsoft paint anymore. There are things to look for in choosing online courses, and if you smell something funny, sniff out their accreditation and make sure your target college will accept the credits (such as, if the credits awarded are ACE or NCCRS, make sure your college accepts ACE or NCCRS, and look at any limits they might have in place for outside credits. My first choice college back in the day did accept CLEP credits, but only for certain exams—for example, neither Principles of Marketing nor Principles of Management would have counted on my transcript there).

Most of the credit sources I have in My Degree Plan are very widely accepted, and there were a few websites and courses along the way I decided against because I couldn’t nail down their accreditation or I felt they were sketchy in some way or another. If you don’t trust your gut, get a second opinion. I’m happy to be a second set of eyes if you’re not quite sure, otherwise there are forums and Facebook groups, and finding a small community of people I could bounce ideas off of in degree planning was the best thing ever so I highly recommend it.

I hope you feel more settled about the legitimacy of online college credits now! There’s really a lot of potential in this field, and I would be several years out from finishing my degree still if I would have ignored online options and had to pay to take all these classes from a school.

What is your experience with online college credit options?

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