Is online college right for you?

By Jennifer Berry

Thinking of re-entering the academic arena? You have more options than ever before. One such option is flexible online learning.

The question is: Is going to school online right for you?

I recently spoke with Lissette Alvarado, an academic advisor at Moraine Valley Community College in Illinois. She had a lot to share about the benefits of online education.

Want to go back to school? Find local and online programs now!

I'm excited to share some of her insights with you, starting with some questions to consider when you're trying to figure out if online college is the right option for you.

Question #1 - Do you need flexibility in your schedule?

If you answered "yes" to this question, then online education might be a good option for you.

"One of the main benefits of online education is that it allows for students to have flexibility," says Alvarado. "They have access to courses and coursework anytime, anyplace - as long as they have access to the internet."

The online learning option gives you the power to determine when you sit down to a lecture - and can help make it easier to juggle your work and family obligations with school.

Click here to find online schools and degree programs

Question #2 - What kind of college experience do you want?

There are definite differences between the experiences you get when you attend an online college versus a campus-based college.

Dorm life, student unions, and cafeterias may be a big part of life for students who are required to be physically present in the classroom… but for online students? Not so much.

"With anything it's a give and take," Alvarado says. "If a student does their complete degree online, they don't have the same college experience. But they still get all the same information they need from their courses."

In fact, a U.S. Department of Education study from 2009 found that an online college education can be even more effective than traditional face-to-face college instruction.

Knowing that the quality of education has the potential to be comparable, it's worth thinking about what's important to you.

Want to go back to school? Find local and online programs now!

Question #3 - Are you prepared to be a successful online student?

Remember, just because you're taking online classes doesn't mean you'll be able to coast. Whether it's online or in-person, there's likely still going to be required reading, homework assignments, and participation requirements.

According to Alvarado, mature, responsible, accountable, and self-motivated people tend to be successful with online education.

Another good skill to have, notes Alvarado, is time management skills. The good news is that time-management is a skill that you can practice.

Think about it. If you make the effort to set aside time to get your homework done every day, you'll be more likely to gain the most from your online education experience.

Question #4 - Do you have a reliable computer and consistent access to the internet?

To study online, you'll need an up-to-date computer with reliable access to the internet. If you don't have these things, then going to school online might not be right for you.

Having trouble with technology can hinder the process or your experience of the course. "Make sure you have access to technology, and that you're able to do some trouble-shooting," Alvarado advises.

Some last words of advice.

If you've thought it through and are ready to commit to going to school online, here are some last words of advice from Alvarado.

"Online college is a great way for students to earn degrees," Alvarado says. "But make sure your institution is accredited."

"Also, check out what services your institution provides online, like student development and online advising," she adds. "Your institution may even have career counseling services offered online."

The key is to learn about your school and the programs they offer, and to take advantage of their resources.

Going back to school can be tricky, but many schools have programs in place to help with the transition. Whatever you decide, good luck with your studies!

Think online college might be right for you? Share your reasons here on Yahoo! Shine.