Is an online degree right for you?

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) – You may be thinking about getting an online degree, but does it have the same worth as the typical brick and mortar degree? The experts says regardless of how you obtain your degree, there's a lot of homework that must be done first.

Like most of us, Jessica Gentry is busy.

"It's too complicated to have a full time job and have the standard schedule of a college student," she said.

She wants to go back to school -- for her busy schedule, online schooling is the best option.

"I thrive at night, I am the kind of person who does a research paper the day before it is due and I still get an 'A' on it, because if I tried to plan ahead I would get a 'C'", said Gentry.

Going back to school is exciting but Jessica has concerns about earning a degree online.

"A lot of what I am hearing is that these schools even though they are accredited and are great institutions not enough has come out of it yet for employers to take them seriously," she said.

She's also worried about name recognition.

"If you hear University of Richmond or VCU, it's like 'oh, that is a great school' but if you hear online schools you don't get the same reaction," she added.

We went to the State Council of Higher Education or SCHEV, to see if we could get some answers about Jessica's fears. Linda Wooley helps make sure both online -- and brick and mortar schools are accredited.

"Whether the school is online or brick and mortar, we treat the schools the same," she said.

Wooley says the first thing students should do is make sure the school is certified by SCHEV.

"If the school does not have some type of state approval, then they are operating illegally," explained Wooley.

Another good tip, make sure the school you want to attend is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.

"That gives them like a two layer of assurance that the school's academic program, their financial stability, their administrative capabilities have been examined by two bodies, one a private body, and one a governmental body," she said.

Melanie Perry is a success story. She has an online degree from Virginia College and is now the school's Associate Director of Admissions.

"Each degree wether it's from a ground campus or online campus, they both hold the same value, what matters if the school holds the proper accreditation," Perry said.

We checked, and Virginia College is certified by the state and recognized by the U.S. Department of Education. The president of the institution, Elyane Harney says an online degree is just as valuable as their in class degree.

"In today's world, almost every institution has some online delivery platform, it is recognized more legitimately than it was maybe decades ago but the outcomes, the educational outcomes are the same wether it is online or site," she said.

Harney says if the school is legitimate, you shouldn't have any problems.

Melanie has a job, but admits - not all online schools are legit.

"In many situations you can just go online and just buy a GED, buy a diploma, buy your high school diploma and those things are not recognized by most colleges or employers," said Perry.

Also remember, if the school is certified by the state -- and there is a problem -- you are entitled to a tuition refund. If it's not certified -- you may have wasted your money and your time.

While it may sound easy, education experts say earning an online degree is difficult. Keep in mind the work is independent -- if you're not motivated or a self starter, they say, it may not be the best option for you.

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