Find colleges/universities which offer degrees in your desired major.
Once you’ve determined that you’ll need a degree (and what to major in), your next step is to find a school that provides that degree in that major.
Selected Colleges & Universities not only lists a number of schools which have generally good reputations for being helpful to military personnel and their dependents, but at the bottom of that page you’ll find a list of search engines you can use to find schools that might meet your criteria. Also check out Choosing a School.
There are also lots of books available to help you narrow your list of colleges and universities. A few (listed in no particular order) are:
College Match: A Blueprint for Choosing the Best School for You
Choosing a College: Why the Best Colleges May Be Your Worst Choice
Selecting The Right College - A Family Affair: The Freshman Year - Why Do Only 50% Graduate
Choosing the Right College 2010-11: The Whole Truth About America's Top Schools
The All-in-One College Guide: A More-Results, Less-Stress Plan for Choosing, Getting into, Finding the Money for, and Making the Most out of College
Selecting the Right College: A President’s Advice
10 Things You Gotta Know About Choosing a College
Choosing a College: The Student’s Step-by-Step Decision-Making Workbook
Most of these are aimed at parents and students who are looking at residential colleges (i.e., full-time sit-in-class schools). Click here if you're interested in distance learning schools.
After you’ve settled on a couple of schools, find a way to contact a counselor at each (e-mail, phone, fax) and ask what you need to do or provide to get a degree plan from each.
Don't assume that just because everyone you know is taking courses on-line that that methodology will work for you. Before settling on a specific school, please read this short article published by the University of Illinois listing the characteristics of successful on-line students.
Better yet, check out a couple of the many on-line assessment tools available to help you determine if computer-based distance learning is for you before deciding whether to take college courses via distance learning or by sitting in class with other students.
Am I Ready for Distance Learning? (Florida Distance Learning Consortium)
Is Distance Learning Right for Me? (Grand Rapids Community College)
Self-Assessment for Distance Learning (Oregon Network for Education)
Distance Learning Readiness Survey (Harper College)
Is Distance Education Right for Me? (Boise State University)
Student Online Readiness Tool (University of Georgia)
I can’t tell you how many people I’ve talked with who have jumped into taking college courses based only on a TV commercial or ad in Navy Times or a magazine – and have later regretted it. Why? Because they dealt with sales people who call themselves “counselors”. And a sales person's main interest is usually not your education. They’re mainly interested in getting you to pay the institution money. The fact that you’re taking courses and not buying a stereo is irrelevant. Sales are sales and they get paid according to how much money they get you to spend with their company. (Don't forget that for-profit educational institutions are companies that sell education.)
ESOs, on the other hand, are prohibited from steering you toward or away from particular institutions. An ESO's job is to provide facts in as unbiased a way as we can. Who’s more likely to tell you the truth: an ESO who has nothing to gain from your decision or a salesperson whose income depends on your decision?
Here are a few questions to get answers to before you pick a school.
Does the institution you’re considering require you to sign a contract (perhaps called an “education agreement”) before you can take courses there? If so, beware. You may commit yourself to taking a specific number of courses, to paying a withdrawal fee if you decide not to take a course – even if you haven’t started the course – or other practices you’d find used in an appliance store rather than an institution of higher education.
Does the institution automatically sign you up for pre-selected courses, requiring you to withdraw from them or else pay for them (like a book or CD club)?
Is it difficult to find basic information on its web site such as the type of accreditation, whether it runs on a semester or quarter system, and how much its per-credit tuition is? Good schools aren’t afraid to let students know this information.
Does the institution make it easier to find information on financing your education than on how much your education there would cost?
Do you really need a degree or are you mostly interested in learning specific skills or acquiring specific information? If you’re getting a degree to prepare you for a specific career outside the Coast Guard, have you checked with potential employers in that field to see if they require applicants to have a degree?
For example, do you really need an associate's or bachelor’s degree to become an illustrator, graphic designer, or video game designer or to start your own business? Don’t assume employers want a degree; they might be looking for specific skills and knowledge instead. And you can often acquire such skills and knowledge by taking individual courses (without getting a degree) that might make you more desirable to employers than would a degree for which you have to take English, math, history, and other courses unrelated to your interests. These courses are available on-line, by other types of distance learning, or in class.
The bottom line is: be a smart consumer. You wouldn’t buy a house or a car without first looking at and comparing a few. So why would you buy an education without using the same degree of care?