Online learner in front of a stack of books with a sign that says "learn"

Are you thinking about going back to school? Are you looking to finish your bachelor’s degree in a way that fits your hectic lifestyle? An online degree may be exactly what you’re looking for! However, not all online degree programs are created equal. The right program may help you reach your personal and professional goals and dreams, while the wrong program could waste your time and money. Here are some of the most important things to look for when you’re hunting for the program that’s just right for your needs.

1. Quality is built into the course design

Every online course is designed differently, and it can be a challenge to know how well you’ll learn in a specific course before you enroll. One way to measure the effectiveness of an online course’s design is Quality Matters (QM), a nationally recognized rubric of standards for online courses. Quality Matters is based on extensive research — it draws from over 1,000 studies! Because of this, when you see a course has met the QM certification, you can be confident in its quality.

The University of Northern Iowa’s Online & Distance Education (ODE) believes quality design should be the top priority for every course that’s offered. That’s why we’ve adopted Quality Matters. Since 2011, more than 420 UNI faculty and staff have participated in the flagship Quality Matters workshop.

ODE also has dedicated instructional developers who work one-on-one with faculty members to ensure that every online course is created to engage with online learners effectively. They do this with national quality assurance standards for online learning in mind. When every aspect of a course is intentionally designed, the students can expect to get more out of the experience.

2. Experienced faculty teach the courses

The faculty teaching the course you’re taking can make or break your online experience. Even if you’re confident that a program has a smart, effective design, it’s important that faculty members who are teaching are seasoned professionals who will enhance your online learning experience. 

At UNI, most online courses are taught by dedicated full-time faculty who also teach traditional residential courses. This allows them to bring a wealth of experience to the online classroom and ensure distance learners get a very similar experience to on-campus students. You’ll also find that our faculty have experience beyond the classroom. For example, faculty members who are teaching for UNI’s new online Bachelor of Arts in Human Services don’t just have backgrounds as clinical researchers like you might expect. They have real-world experience in areas like social work, family services, gerontology and psychology —  fields you may be hoping to work in if you’re going through the major. 

3. Support services are easily accessible

When you’re taking online courses, it’s important to feel connected to the school you're attending. Being an online learner shouldn’t make you feel like you’re on your own. All types of learners deserve to be supported on their journey to obtaining the degree of their dreams. Make sure that as you do your research on online colleges and universities, you look into what measures a university has in place to specifically connect with online learners.

UNI is known for giving every student personalized attention. This isn’t just true for our residential students. It’s true for online students as well. For every program offered online at UNI, there’s a dedicated contact person in ODE who can assist you or connect you with others who can. You’ll also have access to personalized academic advising and technical support assistance. All of these resources exist to help you succeed.

If you’re an adult or place-bound learner who’s obtaining an associate’s degree through an Iowa community college, you may qualify for additional resources when you begin an online bachelor’s program through the University of Northern Iowa. This is thanks to the UNI at Iowa Community Colleges (UNI@IACC) initiative, which launched in summer 2022 to make bachelor’s degrees more accessible. UNI has support specialists at the Des Moines Area Community College and Western Iowa Technical Community College campuses. These full-time employees can help you by answering questions and connecting you with other resources to make earning a degree a little more manageable.

4. The program complements your lifestyle

One of the perks of getting your degree online is these programs tend to be more flexible, especially when they are online degree programs for working adults. But some programs are more flexible than others. Look for the terms “asynchronous” and “synchronous” when researching online college degrees. While the work for asynchronous courses can be done at any time, it must be done at specific times in synchronous courses. Many online programs also require a mix of asynchronous and synchronous work.

The University of Northern Iowa offers online degree completion programs that were designed with adult learners in mind. If a class does have a meeting time, it will typically be at night, since that’s usually a more convenient time for working professionals.

Although most online programs at UNI are set up to be completed part-time to enhance flexibility, there are some more accelerated options for students who want to get through their degree program faster. For example, UNI’s Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice program is available with both part-time and full-time options for students wanting that flexibility due to work and family commitments.

5. The cost doesn’t hold you back

While no one wants cost to be the driving force behind their decision to go back to school, this is the reality for many students. Luckily, finding more affordable options for online degree programs for working adults doesn’t mean you have to settle for a lower-quality education. There are plenty of high-quality programs offered at more affordable prices as well as programs that provide ample scholarship opportunities for students.

If you are earning your degree through UNI@IACC, you will be considered for Future Ready Scholarships. These need-based scholarships cover the difference between Iowa community college tuition and UNI tuition, making online education more affordable. And because the eight programs offered through UNI@IACC are high-demand areas in the state of Iowa, you can expect a solid return on your investment. To be considered for these scholarships, students should complete a FAFSA.

Discover online degree programs at the University of Northern Iowa

When you find an online degree program that aligns with your needs, your future can start to come into focus. At the University of Northern Iowa, we offer eight entirely online degree completion programs for undergraduates, so you can earn the degree of your dreams in the most convenient way possible. There are also a number of online graduate programs and continuing education certificates available. Because UNI has been ranked the best online college in Iowa by College Choice, you can be confident in the quality of your online program no matter what you choose.

Take the next step by investing in yourself and enrolling in an online degree program at UNI today!

As Iowa's only regional comprehensive university, we are designed to provide critical coursework with real, practical fieldwork. 

Real, relevant academic excellence for a world that expects future-ready graduates.

  • 94% of UNI grads find success within six months of graduation.
  • UNI was named #1 best online college in Iowa by College Choice in 2020.
  • UNI graduates more teachers than any other university in Iowa.
  • UNI is ranked a top regional public university by U.S. News & World Report.

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Program of Interest:
Currently we do not offer any on-campus doctoral degrees. Please see our online options.

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