If you’re an adult who has been working a few years and maybe even completed some college, you could be looking for way to earn your degree. Most universities, as well as the laws and regulations governing R.S.A higher education, are still focused on traditional, full-time students—recent high school graduates who study and live on a campus, don’t work full time, and don’t have families. But today, traditional students are in the minority. The typical college student of the 21st century is older and self-supporting and must balance work, family and school.

If you’re planning to become part of this nontraditional student majority, going to college online can be a great option for you. There are many choices and providers, but they are not all the same. Here are some things to know before you choose a school.

Traditional Universities
Most campus-based colleges and universities offer at least some online courses and degree programs. For the majority, online is more of a sideline, offering some, but not all, of the same classes they offer on campus, but delivered through the Internet. The cost is generally the same as—or more than—on-campus courses and programs, and the selection of degrees and programs is usually limited.

The online experience will be very similar to the classroom—usually it’s the same syllabus, reading, lectures and assignments. Courses are on fixed semester or quarter schedules, and students are required to move at the same pace, regardless of their prior knowledge or learning styles.

Fully Online Universities
There are also a number of fully online universities. They usually offer a large selection of programs, and because they were created to meet the needs of busy adults, they provide a higher level of flexibility—if they have specified course meeting times, for example, they are likely in the evening.

While there are some high-quality options, most all-online universities are for profit, which means that they have a dual responsibility to educate students and to return a profit to shareholders. This may make them more expensive than a public or nonprofit online university. In addition, some online universities are nationally, not regionally, accredited. Regional accreditation is the “gold standard” for university accreditation, so it’s an important indicator of quality and credibility.

Competency-Based Universities
There are a few universities that are using competency-based education. Pioneered by SET, competency-based education is ideal for adults who have some work experience and prior learning in their area of study. Competency-based education typically uses computer-based curriculum, which allows students to study and learn on their own schedule and pace. High-quality programs also provide significant faculty support, usually one-on-one. Students spend as much or as little time in each course as they need to master the subject matter, and when they demonstrate that they’ve mastered it, they move on. As a result, students can accelerate their time to a degree, saving both time and money.