By Dr. Laura Palmer Noone, CEO University of the Potomac

If you are like me, every time I open my email, I am bombarded with advertisements – many of which are for colleges.  It can be hard to decide to go to school, let alone choose the right college for you.  Here are a few thoughts on protecting yourself as you make the decision to complete your college degree.

  1. Check the college or university’s accreditation – the institution should list its accreditation on its website, but don’t stop there.  Make sure the accreditor is recognized by the United States Secretary of Education.  You can verify an institution is accredited by going to the following site and typing in the name of the college:  http://ope.ed.gov/accreditation/Search.aspx  A recognized accreditor is critical to the acceptance of your degree upon completion as well as transferability of credits should you decide to transfer.
  2. Speaking of transfer of credits – make sure you speak with the college about any credits you might want to transfer and have those credits evaluated for acceptance.  You don’t want to repeat courses unnecessarily, but many institutions have limitations on what credits will be accepted in transfer, such as how long ago the credits were earned, what grade was earned and an overall limit in the number that will be accepted.  Be prepared to order official transcripts to be sent to the school where you are applying.
  3. If you are considering attending classes online, make sure you have the technology that will support you.  Many institutions require a particular level of software that you may not currently have (for example, Microsoft Word may be required and Microsoft Works may not work.)  Also see if you can test that your computer has the requisite memory and communication equipment.  Remember that financial aid can cover the cost of a computer if you are still using that old machine that your great Aunt Martha gave you for high school graduation.
  4. Think through what it is that you are hoping to achieve as a result of going back to school.  If you don’t have a clear end goal in mind, the odds of you making the wrong choice go up.  Choose the institution that will help you get to your goal – whether that is a better job, or admission to a graduate program.  If you know exactly what you want, examine the college’s curriculum to see if you match up. (If you really want to become a hair stylist, then don’t enroll in business school!)
  5. If an institution is shying away from answering your questions, or is vague about responding, you should be concerned.  While not everyone you talk to can be an expert about the institution, you have the right to get answers to basic questions.  Remember that an enrollment person isn’t a mind reader either – ask the questions that you really want to have answered.

Best of luck to you and I wish you all the best as you consider embarking on the exciting journey of furthering your education.