How to choose the best online college for your personality and circumstances

How to choose the best online college for your personality and circumstances

Choosing an online college shouldn't be as simple as closing your eyes and picking at random. Not all online colleges are created equal. Some are better for working adults, while others may be better for stay-at-home parents. Some are better for military employees and others for travelers. Some are better for introverts and others for extroverts. It all depends on your situation.

Here are three ways to help you choose an online college based on your personality and circumstances.

1. Answer questions about your personality

Many colleges boast diversity, but that doesn't mean that every college is the perfect match for you. For this reason, Ann Lefeve Snyder, director of the student travel organization New Worlds Emerge, recommends students take a personality test before even starting the college search. This can give you insight into your study habits, your work pace and much more.

Snyder writes on the New Worlds Emerge website, "Once you get to know yourself better, you're one step closer to knowing the kind of place where you'll be most happy. Then you can start to formulate a list that is consistent with your academic goals, your test scores, grades, and everything else that goes into the admissions process."

If you're an extroverted student who wants to meet up with local students to study, you may be better off with an online school that has a large presence in your city. If you learn best visually, then you may thrive in a college that utilizes online video lectures. Recognizing these personality traits may help you sort through the various online colleges quicker.

2. Decide where school lies among your priorities

Contemplating your priorities before attending college is wise. Contemplating your priorities before choosing a college is even wiser.

According to a 2012 study by Apollo Research Institute, one of the six most frequent issues adult college students face (and why they often drop out) is anxiety about spending time with family and friends. A whopping 58.5 percent of students interviewed for the study mentioned feeling this. Prioritizing ahead of time could make all the difference in avoiding this.

Figuring out where spending time with people or your job ranks on your priority list can factor into which online college suits you best. If you find you can only pull off eight hours of school a week, then you'll probably want to choose an online program that allows only one class a semester. If you can't fathom the thought of being away from your kids for three weeks, then you may have just crossed off a number of hybrid degree programs that are online throughout the year and on campus for a few weeks during summer.

In prioritizing and figuring out your schedule ahead of time, you may be able to narrow down your list of prospective schools.

3. Assess your financial circumstances

Before choosing an online college, you should figure out if you can afford it.

According to the most recent data by FICO Banking Analytics, the average student loan debt is $26,549. This may not be your debt if you go to college (you may pay more or less) but it's important to know how expensive college can be. Can you manage the cost and how?

This question proves to be perhaps even more pressing for the online student. Since so many online students are either working adults or juggling family commitments, they're in a different place to receive aid than others. You may not qualify for some scholarships, which may be purely targeted to high school seniors. You may make too much money to earn federal grants. Even if you can score free money, sometimes it comes with criteria that may be difficult for some online students, like the not-so-uncommon requirement of being enrolled full-time.

If you take the student loan route, you'll face interest rates and repayment. According to the New York Times, the interest rate of many student loans is scheduled to double in July 2013, to 6.8 percent. Do you think your job or life circumstances will allow you to pay these back? Or should you choose an online college that costs less or that lets you take one class a semester so you can pay out of pocket?

There are plenty of great online colleges out there. Not all of them are for you. Don't forget to take your personality and circumstances into account when making your decision.

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