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I'm hoping some kind people could help me from making (more) big mistakes. I've spent several years at a Canadian university, and I've gotten a good number of science and math courses under my belt. Unfortunately, I hit a rut and made a mess of my third year, and haven't been back to finish my degree.

That was ten years ago, and just now I'm quite taken with the idea of returning to finish my computer science degree. The problem I'm facing (and am hoping for help with) is that my life isn't compatible with the university experience. I have a house, two toddlers, a full time job and I don't live near a university (I live in rural Canada, for reference).

Still, I'm doing my best to correct past mistakes and get back to the career path I wanted. It turns out, undergrad degrees are not exactly flexible. I'm not sure how long it would take me to complete the degree with full time schooling, but I've been exploring distance courses and part time, first. Canadian universities do not like to teach computer science over the internet, it seems.

Quite a few universities from the USA are quite willing, however (see, for example Oregon State's online degree program). I am quite uninformed about the validity of a distance degree, particularly in the computer science field. I'm hoping someone with some experience in this area could share their thoughts on if this (distance educated computer science from a US university) is a worthwhile endeavour or if I'd best look elsewhere if I want a degree that can be taken seriously.

Any thoughts at all would be awesome, even if it's just pointing out a resource I could use to figure some of this stuff out on my own. I'm feeling pretty overwhelmed and lost, I don't want to do this wrong a second time.

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    Hi, and welcome to Academia.SE! As originally formulated, your question was too much a "shopping question" and likely to be closed, so I've edited it to focus on what seemed to be the key point: whether online degrees from legitimate universities are considered valid. I also removed the side-question of state vs. private universities, which is answered elsewhere on this site (e.g. this question). Please feel free to adjust if I've misinterpreted things. – jakebeal Oct 31 '15 at 11:30
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    Thanks Jakebeal, I think I see how it was problematic before. I'll be more careful. – Kad Oct 31 '15 at 15:13
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Whether an online degree program can give you what you need depends strongly on how you want to use it. A university degree can typically provide three key assets:

  • Skills: the technical foundations for professional success, particularly in STEM fields like computer science.
  • Network: connections with fellow students in your cohort are an excellent way to bootstrap one's professional network.
  • Prestige: the reputation of a school for achievements in its graduates, typically closely tied to skills and network.

An good online degree program can provide you with valuable skills, but is unlikely to give you much network and is definitely lower in prestige, even for the best programs (though these are slowly gaining in respectability). If that is enough for your goals, then an online degree program can definitely provide it---and the better US distance learning programs are often explicitly intended to serve people in situations like yours.

It is important, however, to make certain that you pick a good, accredited program, or else your degree certainly will be worthless. Many rather nasty for-profit organizations have gotten into online education and are essentially ripping off their students. There are some good guides online to help you figure out the difference, however, such as this one.

  • Thanks for the information. Primarily the skills and knowledge gained are of performance, I guess it's the importance of prestige that I'm unsure of, having never held a degree previously. I'm not in a position to be picky, I'm trying to make the most of what choices I do have. – Kad Oct 31 '15 at 15:17
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    @Kad More prestige will make it easier to land starting positions at competitive job openings, though is by no means a guarantee. If your options are limited, then choosing among the best accredited programs you can (whether you should pick the very best you can get into is a different question; some say you get more benefit from being a big fish in a small pond than from being a small fish in a big pond) and then working hard may let you climb up to increasingly better paying jobs. – zibadawa timmy Oct 31 '15 at 21:07
  • That gives me a lot to think about, Timmy. I think I have a pretty good idea what I need to pay attention to with all of this stuff, thanks for the information. – Kad Nov 1 '15 at 15:45
  • I am not sure you want to open the can of worms, but some comments about what makes a "good online degree program" would be very helpful. – StrongBad Apr 21 '16 at 19:59
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    @StrongBad I'll just stick with the link I gave, I think... – jakebeal Apr 21 '16 at 20:00

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