Because of the rise and proliferation of the online university, people interested in attending college now have countless options from which to choose. Live in Florida but interested in Portland State University? Shouldn’t be a problem if you have Internet access. Want to earn a degree but don’t have the time because of work and family? Distance learning can facilitate a busy schedule. Not all online schools are created equal, though, and it’s essential to choose the best one. So how do you go about doing this? Just as there is an abundance of schools from which to choose but, using online university rankings can help you narrow your decision down.
But which of these resources are trustworthy and accurate, and which might lead you astray? Some people are inclined to conduct a simple Google search of the most highly rated online schools and glance only at the contents of the first hit or two. Although there’s nothing inherently wrong with getting a cursory idea of which schools rank highest, such knowledge must be taken with a grain of salt.
For instance, a site might rate Kaplan University as the best online school in the US. But how did they come to that conclusion? If the results are derived from students’ responses, you have to ask: how many students’ responses were aggregated? If only one student rated the school, and he gave it a glowing review, then it’s no wonder that Kaplan came out on top since there are no bad reviews. Also, what about the school is being evaluated? The instructors? The workload? The tuition? The likelihood that you’ll find a job after graduating? If the student comments only on how easy it is to register for classes, then that doesn’t help you make a well-rounded decision.
One last thing you need to remember is that people tend to exaggerate online, especially if they are able to post their comments anonymously. If they ended up having one bad professor, they might generalize their distaste toward the entire school, thereby dropping its ranking.
When seeking suggestions, you’re probably better off referring to an established, tried-and-true publication like U.S. News and World Report. For years they have been ranking America’s schools, and recently they’ve begun doing the same for online universities. They take into account three indicators: Faculty Credentials and Training (Westfield State University comes in at #1), Student Services and Technology (Arizona State University) and Student Engagement and Assessment (Bellevue University).
Again, there’s nothing wrong with seeking student responses of online universities, so long as your findings are tempered with a more reputable resource like U.S. News and World Report.