9 tips to help you choose an online university


03rd Dec 2020


Online study


Choosing to start a new university qualification is a big commitment – so it’s important to make sure you make the right decision for you!

The right institution can depend on a number of factors, including your academic and professional background, the subject you plan to study and your career goals. This can be even harder to determine with an online institution, where you won’t be able to physically visit the campus or meet staff.

Today on the blog we are sharing nine top tips to help you work out whether the university you’re considering is a high-quality institution, and also if it suits your specific situation.


1.      Subjects offered

First things first, before doing too much research into a particular higher education institution, check that it offers a course that you are interested in. This is about more than just the degree title – take a look at the modules on offer and whether you can see them being of interest to you or if they align with your long-term career objectives.

Check out this blog for further tips on how to choose a course.


2.      Eligibility

Before you get your heart set on a particular institution, it’s a good idea to check the entry requirements for your course to see if you are likely to be eligible to study with them. If you don’t have a traditional academic background, it may be possible to find a university that accepts professional work experience in lieu of qualifications.

This is also a good point to check out the fees for the course you wish to study, so you can start planning for how to fund your studies. Also find out whether there are any scholarships or discounts available which you may be eligible for. You’ll also want to be aware what the tuition fees cover, and if there are any additional costs for course materials, exams or resits.


3.      Ranking and awards

Next up, take a look at what the reputation of the university is like. There are a number of factors applicable here, but the key ones are:

  • How does the institution rank on national and international league tables? The main UK ones to check are the Times and Sunday Times Good University Guide and the Complete University Guide.
  • Has the institution won any awards? The main higher education awards in the UK are the Times Higher Education Awards, held annually in November, who recognise outstanding work across a wide range of university activities, including the prestigious University of the Year.
  • What is the student satisfaction level? We achieved excellence for teaching, learning and academic support in the 2023 National Student Survey.

Different institutions may be ranked differently across the various rankings and league tables, so take a look across as many different sources as possible to get a well-rounded perspective.


4.      Accreditation

Depending on your degree, it may be beneficial for your degree to have certain accreditations, or even essential if you want to go into a particular career. For example, the only path to a professional career as a psychologist in the UK is by studying a degree accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS).

If you are studying out of personal interest rather than to further your career, accreditation may be less important to you. It is important to do your own research into your field to determine how critical a particular accreditation is to your plans.


5.      Flexibility

Some online or distance learning degrees are actually hybrid or blended degrees, with some online tuition but also the requirement to travel to campus for some lessons or to visit assessment centres to complete examinations. This can be an issue if you aren’t able to travel or if you choose to study a course from an institution in another country.

For the few Essex Online courses that have exams, we make use of an eProctoring tool to allow you to take academically rigorous exams from home. The only time you’ll be invited to see us in person is for your graduation – and if you can’t attend, your certificate will be posted to you.


6.      Style of teaching

In order to get the most out of your degree, choosing a teaching and learning style that works for you is important. Some online institutions teach exclusively through traditional-style lecture recordings, which can work for some people. Most people prefer a more varied approach to teaching, with multimedia lectures that incorporate video, audio, text, infographics, images, multiple-choice questions and short tasks.

Traditional classroom discussions are often replaced by discussion forums and/or live Q&A sessions or seminars. You will also want to consider how you will be assessed. If you’re not a fan of exams you may want to look for a course that is mostly or entirely assignment based.

If you’d like to find out more about our learning platform, why not try a taster course.


7.      Support available

Although studying an online degree means you won’t be meeting university staff in person, the support you receive during your studies is another critical aspect to consider. Is there provision for both academic support and pastoral support? What are class sizes like? What about IT support or support for students with disabilities?

You should also consider what the experience is like when applying to study. A dedicated and knowledgeable admissions team is more likely to lead to a dedicated and knowledgeable student support team.


8.      What current students say

A great way to get an insight into what to expect from studying with a particular institution is to look at what current students and recent graduates have to say. Lots of institutions will have testimonials you can watch or read, and you may also be able to chat to a current student to ask any questions you have.


9.      Does it feel right?

Finally, it’s important that you feel positive about the university before you begin your studies. You are going to have a relationship with this institution for several months or years, and beyond that as an alumnus. When you have done all the research you need to do, take a final opportunity to consider if this is what feels right for you, before making the commitment.


Still working out whether University of Essex Online is right for you? Have a read of our prospectus.