OK, you’ve decided it’s time to start working on a degree and are thinking about going with that one you saw advertised on TV or in Navy Times. Before you jump in and write a check for your application fee, take a deep breath and slow down.
Why? Because next to buying a house, going to or sending a child to college is the most expensive purchase most Americans will ever make. If you were going to spend thousands of dollars on something tangible – like a house, a car, a boat, a huge-screen TV, or jewelry – wouldn’t you do some comparison shopping and research to find out if you were getting the best deal possible and if what you were thinking about buying suited your needs and wants?
When it comes to higher education, be a smart consumer – even if Uncle Sam’s going to be paying for some or all of it. If you’re paying for it (and if you’re using the GI Bill, you’re paying for it), you want to get the most and best education possible for your money. And don't forget that buying education is similar to buying anything else: the lower the price (all else being equal), the more of it you can buy with a fixed amount of money. So you can take more courses if tuition is $220/credit than if it's $450/credit, given that you only have $4,500 to spend per year.
Before you dive into a distance learning (which, to most people, usually means "on-line) program, check out at least one of the many on-line assessment tools you can use to determine if computer-based distance learning is for you.
There's also quite a bit of good information on on-line bachelor's degree programs at a web site called (coincidentally) Online Bachelor Degree Programs.
To keep track of what each school is like, use the College Comparison Worksheet. Print it out and keep it handy to make notes while you're checking out possible schools on the Internet.
If you’re interested in taking college courses for the first time, often your first challenge is to find a school that meets your needs and wants. A web site – “College Choices for Adults” – seeks “to provide you with the data you need to select a college best suited to help you earn your degree in the distance education setting that works with your busy schedule.” You can search for schools offering a specific major or degree program and you can get a side-by-side comparison of data from up to three schools at a time.
Just be aware that this is a very small sample of colleges and universities which have distance learning programs. You can find a number of other schools elsewhere on this web site.
The publisher of G.I. Jobs magazine has created a web site that provides a great deal of information related to education. In particular, it has a list of what it calls "military friendly schools".
CAUTION: Keep in mind that the educational institutions described, discussed, or listed on this site (and many other sites, including military.com) will likely have paid the site’s publisher to get onto it. Don’t assume that because a college or university isn’t on the site that it isn't military friendly. It may be more “military friendly” than others on the site, but just didn’t want or have the money to pay to get onto the site.
On the other hand, don't assume that because a school is included that it's what YOU'D call "military friendly". Beware of sales people disguised as college counselors who talk you into doing something you're really not sure you want to do. This includes taking out loans, using your GI Bill, and taking courses at all.