When to Transfer Online Degree Programs

When it comes to selecting an online degree program, not everyone makes the right decision the first time around.

Justin North, a current online MBA student at the Temple University Fox School of Business, transferred in after two semesters at a different online public university. Among his reasons: North, who at the time lived near Temple’s campus in Philadelphia, realized he wanted more in-person interaction for student support and networking.

“If I had any issues, I was able to get on my pedal bike and pedal over to the campus and speak with the people directly,” says the 29-year-old active-duty military member. He also attended a required week-long on-ground residency with his classmates after enrolling.

The desire for on-campus resources is one of several reasons online students may change universities. Here are six additional reasons experts say you should consider transferring to a different institution’s online degree program.

1. The program’s quality isn’t what you anticipated. Those who don’t spend ample time researching degree program options from the outset risk picking one that doesn’t fully meet their needs, whether in terms of class size or structure, interactivity or other qualities, experts say.

Before Lee Doberstein finished just one semester at a for-profit, primarily online university, he knew it wasn’t right for him. The course materials in his online bachelor’s program seemed outdated, he says, and collaborating with other undergraduates for coursework was a constant struggle. He transferred to and has since graduated from Colorado State University—Global Campus.

[Learn how to decide between nonprofit and for-profit online degree programs.]

“I really had no idea what was really out there and didn’t really realize there was such a difference in quality,” says the 42-year-old Colorado resident. He says he was pleased with the more experienced faculty and greater course interactivity, among other aspects, at CSU.

2. The institution may lose its accreditation. The accreditation process, which an outside authority conducts, verifies that an online or on-ground university – and in some cases, a specific program – meets certain standards of quality.

Accreditation is often a sign of legitimacy to employers – and to other universities, should a student transfer credits or further their education. Schools should be accredited by agencies that the Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation recognize.

If you discover via one of these organizations’ websites or in recent news articles that school’ or degree program’s accreditation has an uncertain future, that may mean it’s time to transfer, experts say.

3. The program isn’t flexible enough. Some students recognize that their program’s online course scheduling structure doesn’t fit well into their already busy calendar.

Working adults or those with children may, for instance, want to take a semester off or be able to select the number of courses they take each term. Some online schools allow those options; others won’t. So students should consult advisers at different degree programs before transferring.

“A student should consider their many priorities and obligations,” says Caroline Simpson, vice president of student and alumni services at the for-profit, online American Public University System.

“Work, family, social, personal interests and what type of class schedule would fit within all of that – whether it’s monthly starts or whether it’s one course at a time, two courses at a time,” she says.

[Discover what to ask about online program course scheduling options.]

4. Faculty aren’t responsive or engaging. If your professor is interacting with you less because you’re an online student, that may be a red flag.

“Students really need faculty to be there, present, engaging with them,” says Shenita Ray, director for online operations at the Georgetown University School of Continuing Studies. “If they’re not feeling that, then that’s another reason why students say, ‘Hey, maybe this is not the right program for me.'”

5. Your program no longer satisfies your career goals. Career aspirations are a primary motivation for students to earn a degree online. But should their ambitions change – for instance, a student realizes he or she actually wants to switch fields completely, not just advance at his or her current job – they may need a different online degree or credential.

“Really narrowing down the learner’s specific interests and goals is going to take some discussion, potentially with an academic adviser or a mentor or somebody who is already successful in a given field or industry,” Simpson says.

[Explore what to ask an adviser before starting an online program.]

6. The student services aren’t sufficient. Online students also shouldn’t expect less when it comes to the student support services, such as the career center, they receive says Julie Uranis, vice president of online and strategic initiatives at the University Professional and Continuing Education Association.

Know what you need and what’s provided at the new institution before transferring, she says.

But before jumping to conclusions about what is and isn’t available, thoroughly research and examine alternatives, she recommends – perhaps consult a degree program official directly rather than just looking at a school’s website.