Online education isn’t a particularly new concept. In fact, “distance learning” has been available to students for more than a century, as some colleges and universities allowed far-flung students to participate in programs through the mail long before the internet was invented.
However, the recent global shut-down due to a certain devastating disease has expanded access to online education more than ever before. Now, everyone considering higher education has an important decision to make: Should you go to school online or in person? Here are some pros and cons of online education to help you decide.
Pros of Getting an Online Degree
Greater convenience. Perhaps the most well-known advantage of online education, taking courses over the web allows students extra flexibility with regards to how they attend courses, gain knowledge and skill, interact with classmates and professors and more. This extra flexibility means that you can fit your education into your schedule, working your degree program around other responsibilities like a part- or full-time job or family care. In contrast, traditional, in-person programs have strict schedules for class attendance, which can be prohibitive if you need greater flexibility from your education experience.
Lower expenses. Online education isn’t free; though there are some massively open online courses (MOOCs) from respected universities that are available free of cost, a real degree program from an accredited college is accessible only after paying tuition.
That said, online school does have lower associated costs. Being able to log into your courses means you don’t need to relocate to a dorm or apartment on a university campus, and it means you won’t need to commute to campus every day, avoiding costs associated with public transit or parking. Additionally, you will likely pay for resources like books and labs, but digital copies and room access can be substantially lower than physical copies and lab fees on campus. Overall, online education tends to be much more financially accessible, even from universities with high tuition rates.
More career opportunities. Many students are restricted to the degree programs offered by in-state or nearby institutions due to tuition, transportation and other concerns. Thus, you might feel limited to certain career paths based on the programs offered by colleges and universities in your physical vicinity.
However, online education opens the doors to almost all career opportunities you can imagine. There is a wide range of online masters programs that prepare students for advanced careers in specific fields, many of which might not be accessible through low-quality in-person programs near you. If you want to expand your career opportunities or enter a unique field, online education might be your best option.
Cons of Missing the College Experience
Fewer social opportunities. Online education is not particularly conducive to the “typical” college experience, which includes drinking, dancing and spending an abundance of time in the presence of other students. For many young people, college is their first taste of adult freedom — but it often comes with low responsibilities, which makes for a fun, party-like atmosphere within student housing. Because online education does not facilitate social interaction between students, you are likely to miss out on the Van Wilder–esque college shenanigans if you attend a purely online program.
Yet, for most online students, this isn’t much of a loss. Many online students are non-traditional, meaning they are returning to school after a pause for career development, world travel or family building. In fact, online education might offer its own sense of freedom, given the flexibility to attend courses and build skills at your leisure.
Greater technological reliance. To participate in online education, you need to have well-developed technological skill. Connecting to the internet, logging into lectures, uploading coursework, communicating with professors and students — every activity requires you to use a connected device and navigate digital spaces with ease. If you are uncomfortable relying so heavily on technology or have poor technological savvy, online education might not be a viable option for you.
Less room for error. You are almost always responsible for your successes and failures in higher education, but in online education, this is particularly true. The flexibility of online programs means you must be capable of managing your time appropriately to attend lectures and finish coursework; though you might be able to communicate directly with your professors occasionally, they are generally less involved in your regular practice of skills and attainment of knowledge. If you lack the personal accountability to motivate yourself to engage with your degree program, you might consider a more traditional route with in-person classes.
More and more universities are developing online education platforms thanks to the undeniable advantages that online students enjoy. If online education is appealing to you, you should get in touch with your degree program of choice to discuss the options of enrolling in a partial or full-time online course load.