10 Questions to Ask For-Profit Online Colleges

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Not all for-profit colleges are scams. In fact, some offer students flexibility and a career-oriented learning style that can be difficult to find elsewhere.

On the other hand, some online for-profit programs rake in big money while leaving students with lots of debt and few job prospects. If you’re considering enrolling in a for-profit online college, hold off on signing that first tuition check until you get answers to these ten questions:

1. What is the college’s accreditation status?

You’ll want to make sure that your school’s accreditation is recognized by the United States Department of Education. The most transferable form of accreditation comes from the six nationally-recognized regional accrediting bodies.

2. Is the school now (or has it ever been) on one of the federal financial watch lists?

The federal government recently released a list of colleges that are being monitored due to concerning financial behavior. Although the list isn’t comprehensive, you’ll want to make sure your college isn’t on it.

3. What is the college’s graduation rate?

Find out what percent of students who start the program end up graduating. If this number is particularly low, it’s a good indicator that the school may not be providing a quality experience or enough student support.

4. How many students who graduate from the program are able to find a career in their field?

The federal government is starting to crack down on for-profit programs that charge a lot for tuition and leave students in the dark when it comes to career prospects. Make sure your investment is worthwhile - you’ll want to know that a reasonable percentage of graduates in your program are able to find employment.

5. How long does it actually take most students to graduate from this program?

It’s likely that the average is longer than 4 years. But, if students are taking 6-8 years to earn an undergraduate degree, that might be a sign to look elsewhere.

6. How much student debt does the average student in this program take on?

Tuition prices may be posted. But, how much debt are students actually accruing? When you factor in student fees, additional coursework, textbooks, and graduation charges, expenses start to add up. You don’t want to graduate with a photography degree and $100,000 of student debt. Make sure that your debt won’t be too challenging to manage with your expected income.

7. What kind of access to career development does the school offer?

Traditional schools tend to offer job fairs, employer meet-and-greets, resume reviews, and other career development options. Does your for-profit program provide any services to help put your degree to use?

8. What other schools or parent companies is this for-profit program connected with?

Some for-profit schools are part of larger conglomerate of schools. Sometimes, when a for-profit program fails, it takes new life with a new name. Do a bit of research into your college’s history and make sure they’ve been thriving for a while.

9. What are the advantages of choosing this school over a non-profit alternative?

Some for-profit schools offer legitimate advantages. They may be able to let you focus on your career rather than saddle you with too many general ed requirements. Or, they may be able to help you finish a degree in less time and with less expense. However, this isn’t always the case. Find out by comparing your for-profit options with similar non-profit and public colleges.

10. How does this school track their statistics?

Don’t just ask the above questions to a telephone recruiter and call it a day. Learn where and how they are collecting this information. Then, double-check the numbers with outside sources. Don’t rely on any school to give you the full picture without your own research to back it up.

Jamie Littlefield is a writer and instructional designer. She can be reached on Twitter or through her educational coaching website: jamielittlefield.com.