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For prospective online students, it's important to choose an online degree program that meets both their professional and personal needs, and how different programs are structured plays a huge part.

For instance, prospective students may want to check either on a school's website or with an academic adviser about whether students in a program of interest are part of a cohort, meaning they progress through most, if not all, courses alongside the same group of classmates, enabling them to build stronger relationships. Students typically take classes according to a timeline set by the school.

Other programs allow students to decide how many courses they enroll in each term and are more flexible about when students take each online class, though there may still be some requirements around when certain courses must be taken, such as foundational capstone courses. Experts say this structure can be a good option for those who balance their education with a full-time job and family obligations, and are unsure of what situations may arise along the way in their personal lives.

Kristy Sherrod, an instructional coach at the Jackson Madison County School System in Tennessee, has experienced both types of online degree programs.