The Reputation of Online—Athabasca University

On a regular basis, I receive messages from people asking me for my opinions of Athabasca University and questioning its overall credibility.  I try to always reply in a reassuring manner and try to make the university sound great, though that is not always easy.  People tend to just believe what they want to believe or believe what they read from an online forum that was published in the early 2000’s.  There could be hundreds of students saying how much they like the university and how successful they were after graduating but the one or two comments from students who did not enjoy the university or could not get a job easily overpowers any of the other comments.

From what I have gathered, people are so caught up in the fact that it is an online university that they fail to realize that, just like the majority of other universities in Canada, it is an accredited university.  People tend to also ask me if they will be able to get a job with their degree if it is obtained through AU, which is ridiculous and almost insulting.  As if they think I would be spending four years of my life and tens of thousands of dollars on a degree for absolutely no reason.

Something I always try to highlight to current or potential students is that you are not putting “Athabasca University – Degree – Online University” on your resume.  It is almost like people want to belittle their own education.  You are not forced to put “Online University” on your resume and you are not forced to even tell people that information in an interview, because it is not relevant.  Most employers are not aware of every single little detail of every university across Canada, so if you omit that information, it likely will not even be brought up.  Honestly, most employers will not care where or how you got your degree, just that you have it.  Just like employers will likely not ask to see the grades on your transcript, they will most likely not ask why you decided to specifically take your degree online.

So, what do you say if they do decide to ask you why you chose AU, or specifically, why you chose to complete an online degree? Do not make it sound like a negative.  Just because it is not the norm, does not make it a bad choice.  We live in an online world, eventually more universities will be turning to AU for advice to better adapt themselves.  Ultimately, you need to be proud of your degree and own it; you worked hard for it.  Explain that you wanted to be in complete control of your education and that you taught yourself everything you know.  Explain that you had to be self-disciplined, motivated, and extremely organized to complete the degree, as there were never any due dates or pre-scheduled exams.  Explain your reasoning for choosing AU, maybe it was because you were already employed full-time, were raising a child, wanted to move or travel frequently, or just loved the idea of learning the contents of the degree in the comfort of your own home.  Be honest but be confident.

Now, I am not going to lie and say that I was never skeptical of AU.  When I first heard about Athabasca University, I thought it was the coolest thing ever.  Though, when I told my friends and family about it, they instilled some doubt into me.  They told me that employers could end up not taking it seriously, that it would probably be really difficult and expensive, and that I would probably just lose focus of the end goal and end up not finishing the degree.  I debated for a long time applying and I finally decided that I would send an email to advising with all my questions and concerns (which I would totally recommend doing if you are in the same situation I was).

Once advising got back to me saying that it was accredited across Canada, I decided to take it upon myself to call employers all over Canada and ask for their honest opinions of AU, and most of the responses I received were very positive.  Most employers explained that to them, a degree is a degree, and that they would review the resume just like any other.  The only remotely negative feedback was from employers who just said they would rate certain universities over others when it came to specific programs, which I thought was perfectly understandable.  Some employers even said that they thought AU was harder than normal universities and overall rated AU higher than some major universities in Canada.

In August of last year, I decided to get a small, part-time job on the side for some extra spending money.  I went to a total of ten different interviews in two weeks and only one employer knew that AU was an online university.  On top of that, I was very transparent in each interview and told them it was an online university, so that I could emphasize that I was extremely flexible for any part-time hours (major benefit of AU right there).  At the end of the two weeks, I was offered seven of the ten jobs that I interviewed for, and one of the job offers was from the employer who knew about AU prior to me going to the interview.  The only odd questions I often received were “did you live in Alberta?”, “how do you submit your assignments?”, “who teaches you the material?”, “how are exams done?”, and my personal favorite “you must be good at computers, right?”

Everyone’s experience will be different.  At the end of the day, you just need to be confident in your education.  You know how hard you worked towards your chosen degree and you need to sell that, just like everyone else.  There is always going to be people who want to criticize your decisions, though at the same time, there will be people that will reward you for all your hard work.