Rebekah HebbertGetting a university education can be challenging for many people, especially for those who don’t conform to the traditional student stereotype due to financial strain, family commitments and work. How do you juggle a family and a full time job while going to a normal university?

One option that can make it easier for these non-traditional students to complete their degrees is to do so through distance education. Even for traditional students, distance learning can make more sense than the traditional method. I choose to do distance education because I thought that getting an accredited degree for less than half the cost, in less than half the time, sounded like a pretty good option.

Finding a program that is accredited, flexible, cheap, fast, from home, with lots of degree choices; impossible? No. Just takes a little research. The following gives a sample of some of the types of options out there.

On the cheapest end there are ways of getting a “college education” for free, if you don’t mind not getting an accredited degree. One way is OpenCourseWare. You may not be able to go to Yale, MIT, or Stanford but you can listen in on their lectures, and study using their course material. Ever wanted to study Computational Neuroscience from Korea University? Well you can. Also in this category are free universities like University of the People, although UotP is hoping to gain accreditation while remaining basically free to increase opportunities for students who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford further education.

Accredited distance education is a mixed bag when it comes to time/cost. Sometimes it can be cheaper and quicker. With other universities it can take just as long and cost as much as the traditional method.

One thing that can greatly reduce time and cost are the use of tests like CLEP and DSST. These tests, accepted by many colleges both traditional and non-traditional, allow you to earn credits by “testing out” of certain courses. If you know the material anyway, or can study it on your own, why spend time and money on a classroom course? Some universities, however, have a very low cap on the number of credits you can earn using this method. Others, like Thomas Edison State College, allow you to test out of up to ninety credits, three quarters of a B.A.

Daunted by how much research and self-motivation it would take to earn a degree that way? There are even coaching services, like CollegePlus which will help you navigate the system and will provide regular accountability and advice.

Still other hybrid distance/traditional programs allow you to take a certain number of credits through distance education, but require you to do on campus work for the remainder of your degree.

Creative university options exist, maybe one of them would work for you.

Rebekah Hebbert is a Canadian homeschool graduate who will be pursuing a degree in communications this fall.  She blogs at The Miss Marprelate Tracts  

Rebekah Hebbert is a Canadian student and writer. Home-schooled all her life, she is now embarked on the wonderful world of accelerated distance learning as an economics student, while...