Over the past several years, online degree programs have grown drastically in popularity, and the structure of these courses continue to grow and evolve as technology evolves. Now, online degrees are an accessible and affordable option for prospective students who may not be able to access higher education otherwise. Students can now earn a degree from countries around the world, without ever leaving their home country.
As with any educational program, online programs have their pros and cons. Here are a few things to consider before studying online, be sure to weigh each carefully when you’re determining if this is the best path for you.
The Advantages of Studying Online
- Flexible schedules
- Some courses may require students to be online at a specific time for a class or interaction with an instructor, but this is fairly rare. For the most part, online courses allow you to log into the course material whenever it suits your schedule. While there are deadlines for homework and other assignments, the flexible schedule provided by online courses allows you to balance school with your other responsibilities, such as work or family life.
- The number of online schools in existence grows every year. This means that you can shop around for the program that is the best fit for you, whether you are looking for an associate, bachelor's, master's, certificate, or even doctorate degree. Given the growing number of traditional institutions that now offer online programs, you can also choose a hybrid (online and in-person) program. Search for universities that offer online degree programs
- Tuition for online programs tend to be less expensive than in-person programs. In addition to a lower tuition cost, you’ll save money on room, board, or commuting costs!
- Access to course materials
- With traditional on-campus courses, students have to rely on their notes in order to remember class lectures. With online courses, you have access to written or video lectures whenever you need them, making studying much easier.
- Location flexibility
- Because online schools exist across the world, you can take classes from a different state or country without having to leave home. Typically, online classes can be taken from anywhere as long as you have internet access.
- No commute
- You’ll save both time and money that you might otherwise be spending getting to and from campus, allowing you to spend more time studying, doing homework, or attending to your work and family responsibilities.
- Faster completion
- With online programs, you may be able to complete your degree in less time than it might take you in a traditional program. This will get you out into the workforce much sooner!
- Improve your writing and communication skills
- When all of your interactions take place online, clear communication is crucial. Since you will be judged primarily on your writing, you’ll learn to put in your best work and clearly articulate your meaning.
- Variety of options
- Whatever your field of interest, you will be able to find an online program that suits your needs. There is basically no limit to the variety of online programs that exist.
The Disadvantages of Studying Online
- Limited instructor/student interaction
- Your professors may hold digital “office hours,” but you may still find it difficult to engage with them. It may take a few hours to get a response to a question, or there might be additional back and forth discussion on an issue. Most online professors are fairly hands-off, so it is difficult to get extra help or one-on-one interaction. This doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t develop mentoring and networking relationships with your professors, but it is generally harder.
- Social interaction
- Online schools do not offer the peer-to-peer interaction, like clubs, sporting events and social gatherings, that traditional schools offer. You may have chat rooms and online hangouts, and most online courses have a discussion area where students are required to talk about specific questions pertaining to the course, but it is more difficult to form meaningful bonds in online programs.
- Technology requirements
- Not everyone has a computer in their home, or their computer may not be equipped with the latest technology, which may inhibit their online learning experience. Most online programs will post the recommended (or required) technology needed to take their courses. Additionally, if you are frequently dealing with computer or internet problem you may be unable to complete your assignments or exams on time.
- Campus experience
- Online schools do not offer extracurricular clubs or activities that many students enjoy. While the absence of frat parties and residence hall politics may be part of the appeal for some, students who are coming straight from high school may want to have the on-campus experience.
- Time management
- If you have a habit of procrastinating, online courses may prove particularly challenging. Having the flexible schedule provided by online courses is great, but may not offer that necessary push that some students need to get their work done.
- Transferring credits
- It may be slightly more difficult to transfer online course credits to a traditional school. However, transferring credits from one institution to another can always pose a hurdle. Speaking with an academic advisor during the class selection process can help ensure as many credits as possible will transfer over.
- Financial aid
- Not all online schools accept all forms of financial aid, if you will need financial aid to assist in paying for tuition, you’ll need to do careful research before sending out your applications.
- Over the past few years, the reputation of online education has improved significantly, especially as more and more traditional schools have started offering online degrees. However, in some cases there’s still a misconception that online school is easier or less reputable than traditional school. Make sure you research the reputation of the institution you’re considering before you apply.
Although an online degree program has both its pros and cons, whether or not it’s a right fit is going to be different for everyone. Think carefully about the type of educational experience that you want, as well as the things that are most important to you, before you decide whether or not to pursue an online degree.