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Don't Get Fooled When Choosing a School

Philip D. Adams
By Philip D. Adams

The First of April can be full of surprises—often accompanied by moments of confusion, embarrassment, and (hopefully) laughter. For people all over the world, it's a holiday of hoaxes, practical jokes, and other good-natured trickery among friends.

Although the exact origins of April Fool's Day are not known, the tradition dates back at least to the Renaissance. The earliest known reference comes from a 1561 Flemish poem by Eduard De Dene, in which a servant is sent on a pointless "fool's errand" because it's April First.1 Since then, pulling pranks on one another on April Fool's Day has remained a popular springtime custom.

While a harmless prank is all in good fun, your education is serious business. Unfortunately, if you’re a working adult looking to advance your career, choosing the right university for your needs can become a fool’s errand if it’s not done carefully and purposefully. Before committing your time, money, and effort to attend an institution of higher learning, make sure you know what you’re looking for and why.

Avoid Being Fooled 

There are certainly some less-than-legitimate organizations out there selling online classes; however, these are fairly easy to spot with a little due diligence. A search of their website can often reveal a lot of dead giveaways. Things like a lack of transparency about their fees, financial aid, accreditation, and student services, as well as high-pressure sales with lofty promises, should give you pause. Even something as simple as having no physical mailing address could be an indicator of a scam. If you encounter any of these in your college search, it’s not a joke and you should probably keep looking.

Most online schools are reputable institutions that provide good value for the money. Not all of them, however, will offer the best value for your needs. Finding the school and curriculum that aligns with your situation and goals will require some research on your part. Here are some things to consider:

Choose a School with a Solid Reputation and Accreditation

Don’t get pranked by choosing an unaccredited university. The institution you select should be accredited by a reputable accrediting body and have a strong reputation for academic excellence. Accreditation signifies that an independent agency routinely evaluates the quality of education offered by a given institution. You’ll want to look at, not only whether a college is accredited, but also what type of accreditation it has. discusses the differences between regional and national accreditation and which you should look for depending on your situation. Regional accreditation is common among public and not-for-profit private universities. If you have credits you hope to transfer, or if you think you might continue toward an advanced degree, you’ll want to choose a regionally accredited college. Since the standards for regional accreditation are typically more rigorous than for national accreditation, regionally accredited schools tend to have higher educational quality. Also, credits earned from such institutions are more widely accepted and thus more easily transferable.2

Along with accreditation, there are other aspects that speak to a school’s credibility. For instance, if a university has garnered many awards and recognitions, it means that it has earned a solid reputation, not only for the school itself, but often for individual programs as well.

Look for a Wide Range of High-Quality Programs

Whether you’re looking to enter a new field or advance in the field you’re in, the trick is to find a career-relevant degree or certificate program that will give you the real-world skills and knowledge to excel in your job—ideally, ones that you can apply at work right away. An online university that offers a broad range of in-demand programs is more likely to have one that matches your specific goals.

You might want to take the time to preview the course list to make sure the program covers areas pertinent to your interests. This step is key to ensuring that you end up with the skills you set out to acquire. Some programs, such as certain IT, healthcare, and cyber programs, may have their own additional program-specific accreditations and/or include coursework that can prepare you for specific professional certifications.

It’s also not a bad idea to check out the faculty to see if the classes you’ll be taking are taught by experts in their fields. Such professors can provide the best and most up-to-date industry knowledge because they know first-hand what employers are looking for. They can also offer students the benefits of their own field experience and connections.

Explore the Online Learning Experience

It’s no joke how popular online learning has become. However, all online universities are not created equal. Simply repurposing in-person curriculum and presenting it online doesn’t always provide the most complete and satisfying student experience. Instead, look for a school where the programs are designed specifically for the virtual classroom. If you can, take a sample course, so that you can experience the online classroom for yourself. It could be time well spent.

A good online classroom is one that is easy to use and yet provides a rich, collaborative learning environment. Look for a user experience that is both streamlined and robust and optimizes student-instructor interaction.

Also, the convenience of going to an online school should not be limited to classes alone. You’ll want to choose a university that allows you to access its student services online as well, including application, enrollment, class registration, advising, and other services.

Assess the Flexibility and Affordability 

Picking the right college is a different exercise for different types of students. While current students entering college right out of high school might seek more of the on-campus college experience when conducting their college search, if you are a working adult, you’ll want a school that is specifically geared to serve your needs for flexibility, convenience, and an education you can afford. 

A good online university allows you to set your path to certificate or degree completion at a pace that works best for you. Check the school’s class schedule to see if they use a standard semester, or if they have multiple sessions during the year. More sessions mean more flexibility to start when you’re ready.

Online universities are also able to reduce costs and improve access to higher education because they don’t have the traditional physical campus and facilities of brick-and-mortar schools and the associated fees and inflated tuition. You can save time and money because you don’t need to worry about transportation costs, fixed class schedules, or commuting.

Get Credit for What You Know

Naturally, the fewer courses you need to take to complete your degree or certificate, the less time and money it will cost you. A generous transfer credit policy with alternatives paths to credit can save you a good deal on tuition and allow you to finish your program sooner.

In addition to prior college credits, you may have training and experience that you didn’t acquire in a college classroom. If so, you’ll want to look for an online school that accepts credit from a range of sources, such as vocational training, military service, on-the-job training, as well as the ability to “test out” of courses by taking an approved exam.

Give Close Consideration to Student Services

There’s a lot more to college than just attending class and working on assignments. You‘ll need to work out how to pay for it, plan your courses, set schedules, track your grades—all the things that get you from your first day to Graduation Day and beyond. It can be a lot to deal with and rather confusing, even for the smartest people. Will you have to fend for yourself to figure it all out, or will there be people and resources available to guide you to success?

That’s where a university’s student services are critical. One of your most important criteria for selecting a school should be the level and quality of student services offered by the institution. Look closely at what the school offers in terms of advising, tutoring, financial aid and scholarships, library services, student organizations, and career services. These can help improve your chances of success and make your college experience more enjoyable.

Why Choose UMGC?

University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) was founded in 1947 specifically to serve the higher education needs of working adults like you. UMGC is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education and is a constituent institution of the University System of Maryland. The university has repeatedly received awards and recognition for our innovative educational programs and commitment to excellence.

At UMGC, you can choose from more than 135 career-focused undergraduate and graduate programs, many in high-demand fields, including business & management, cybersecurity, healthcare, IT & computer science, public safety and much more—nearly all of which you can complete entirely online.

Courses are taught by UMGC’s faculty of experienced scholar-practitioners who are leaders in their fields. They know the skills valued by employers in today’s job market and the challenges faced by working adults going back to school, and they’ll work with you to help ensure your academic success.

"The professors at UMGC were outstanding,” said Gregory W., who earned a master's in human resource management at UMGC. “I felt that they always had time for me and for answering my questions. They were extremely flexible, no matter what class it was."

The Online Experience at UMGC

Our online courses are built from the ground up specifically for the virtual environment. As innovators in online education since 1997, UMGC delivers a seamless, collaborative, and satisfying online classroom experience that prepares you for today's digital business environment.

We’ve also replaced bulky, expensive textbooks with no-cost digital course materials in nearly every course to provide a truly online experience. Course materials are easy to download from the online classroom and are updated continually with the latest industry information. They also save students an average of more than $1,200 per year.3

Education that Fits Your Schedule—and Budget 

To make it easier to fit school into your busy life, UMGC offers multiple start dates throughout the year and a streamlined admissions process that doesn't require the SAT®4 or GRE. You can apply, enroll, and access a full array of support services and resources—all from your electronic device.

Jaqueline Q. earned a BS in criminal justice with a minor in psychology. She describes how UMGC helped her meet the challenges of adding school to her busy schedule.

"I can say that there have been late nights, sometimes I would miss dinner, but it was all worth it because I really wanted to get this degree. If you're ever thinking that your schedule does not work, just know that UMGC is so flexible. It's a smooth transition, and UMGC will work with you."

UMGC offers a variety of ways to help you meet, manage, and reduce your education costs, including tuition and fees that are competitive, reduced military tuition rates, and more than 140 merit- and need-based scholarships. UMGC also hold regular informational webinars on understanding and securing financial aid.

UMGC also recognizes that not all college-level learning happens in the classroom, so we offer a variety of ways to get you the most credit for what you already know. Along with transfer credit for your college coursework, you can also earn credit for your military experience and training, workplace learning, credit by exam, and more. That’s why UMGC is the No. 1 public university for transfer students in the nation.

"Prior coming to UMGC, I was a student at a community college." said Bechem B., who graduated from UMGC in 2023. "I was able to transfer about 60 credits from the associate degree to UMGC, where I got my bachelor's in homeland security."

Comprehensive, Individualized Student Services 

At UMGC, you won’t have to walk your academic path alone. As soon as you enroll in your first online class at UMGC, you'll be assigned a dedicated success coach who will partner with you throughout your entire student journey. Your success coach can help you map your education and career goals, assist you with course selection and tuition planning, and check in periodically to make sure you are progressing and address any questions, concerns, or issues that you have.

UMGC offers three types of online tutoring services for both undergraduates and graduates—at no cost to you. Up to four hours of one-on-one online subject tutoring per month is available to every student, along with unlimited online group tutoring during evenings and weekends and the Effective Writing Center, which you can access 24/7 for assistance at any stage of the writing process.

The UMGC Library is available online 24/7. You'll find the journal articles, ebooks, reports, data, and other materials you need for your class assignments and research.

UMGC also has a variety of student organizations where you can connect with current students and alumni from around the world and engage in networking and service opportunities as part of a community, and honor societies where the highest standards of scholarship and leadership are recognized and celebrated.

And no matter where you are in your career or how long you may need them, you'll have access to UMGC’s lifetime career services and our network of more than 275,000 active alumni around the globe, so you can always approach a job search with confidence.

1 Source: “April Fools: The Roots of an International Tradition. Library of Congress Blogs”. March 28, 2016

2 "National vs. Regional Accreditation: What's the Difference?" June 24, 2022

3 Average Cost of College Textbooks. July 15, 2022.

4 SAT® is a trademark registered by the College Board, which is not affiliated with, and does not endorse, UMGC.

Reference on this webpage to any third-party entity or product does not constitute or imply endorsement by UMGC nor does it constitute or imply endorsement of UMGC by the third party.

Learn More About UMGC

Don’t fool yourself into thinking that a college degree is out of your reach. We can help you make it happen—and that’s no joke! To get started, contact a dedicated UMGC admissions advisor.