What’s best for you may not be what’s best for another aspiring college student, but there are still some hallmarks of a high-quality online college and a few things you can look out for that will set one apart as the best. There are several different tools that you can use to seek out a good college, but you should make sure that you’re looking at reputable sources and sites. NCES has the College Navigator tool and Niche is one of the best places to find rankings based on student experience. There are also websites (just like OnlineCollegePlan) that put that data together into a more comprehensive picture of a school.

The best online colleges are going to be schools that are fully accredited, offer a variety of degree and course options to their students, and are able to deliver a rigorous and engaging curriculum that builds a strong foundation for students. After all, a bachelors degree is often the first step someone makes whether they’re entering a profession or a graduate program. The best way to find programs that fit the bill is to do your research thoroughly and know what you’re looking for. Accreditation is the main thing you need to look for. There are hundreds of schools in the country that are offering sometimes more than 100 online programs and with that much choice, it is easy to get overwhelmed. The National Center for Education Statistics makes it very simple for any student that wants to double check the accreditation of a school. All you have to do is use the College Navigator tool to search the institution you had your eyes on, and it will tell you exactly what accrediting body the school is recognized by, as well as any programmatic accreditations they may have. For instance, the American Psychological Association accredits a variety of psychology programs. This is imperative. Your credits may not transfer or be recognized by your employer if it isn’t accredited.

Once you’re certain that the schools you’re into are accredited, then what? To make sure that a school is among the best, you can read about it on Niche.com, which is one of the most comprehensive sources because all of the data is based on student experience. A good college is one that has experienced faculty, high freshman retention rates, and high graduation rates. You can also look at other things, like any awards or rankings that a college has won in the past. Freshman retention is the percentage of first-time students that continued on to their second year. Dropout rates aren’t exceedingly high, but to see that students are willing to continue to invest in a school is a good sign. Graduation rate tells you how many students saw it through to the end, which is another huge time investment and sometimes even a large financial investment. If students are willing to stick with a school, that is a strong indicator of its quality. Faculty experience in the field they are teaching is going to take the benefit of an already strong curriculum and pair it with people who know what they’re talking about and care about your success. Thorough research and being aware of your needs is the biggest key to finding the best online colleges.