In a nutshell: While some might prefer the on-campus experience, there are a growing number of benefits for those that choose earning a degree online instead. Consider these three areas as you make your decision.
Earning a degree online or on-campus is a viable option for people seeking higher education.
Advances in technology have made online degree programs more accessible, interactive, engaging and rewarding. Yet, on-campus college courses provide face-to-face interaction that is hard to replicate online. Today’s prospective students should consider all the advantages and disadvantages to both educational approaches, and choose the one that’s right for them.
Typically, an online degree program tends to be a more flexible option for students with a demanding work and/or home life. Depending on your need for flexibility, you should take a close look at the requirements of online courses, as they can differ greatly from program to program.
According to U.S. News’ “6 Questions to Ask About Flexibility in Online Degree Programs,” one of the most pertinent questions to ask is if classes are live, self-paced or a combination of both. Some courses may require students to log in at a designated time and day to encourage interaction with the teacher and other students, while others will allow you to complete your coursework at your own pace, just meeting weekly, monthly or semester deadlines.
Additionally, there may be flexibility in creating your course schedule. Be sure there isn’t a minimum number of classes required that you can’t commit to and inquire about shortened or accelerated terms if you’re anxious to complete your degree quickly. Other flexibility considerations include what times of day student services are available and if there are any in-person requirements.
You may think that on-campus courses would allow you to have more social interaction with fellow students and teachers, but many online programs require discussion to facilitate collaboration. With on-campus classes, it’s often more natural to interact with others during class by asking questions and engaging in discussion. Online discussion boards may feel forced to some students. But here are some tips on how to make the most out of the experience:
- Read directions. This seems like a no-brainer, but many students will often just understand there’s a requirement to post and not see there’s a specific question. Be sure you know what you should address on the discussion board.
- Say something substantive. Don’t just post to meet your weekly requirement. Take a few minutes and reflect on what you plan to say. Opinions are a great starting point but take it further by citing resources that back it up.
- Don’t wait until the last minute. If you procrastinate, it’s possible your classmates have already said everything you’ve thought of sharing. That makes it hard to contribute something meaningful to the conversation. It’ll be easier on you to make the post earlier in the discussion.
- Ask questions. Asking a question goes for inquiring with your instructor if you don’t understand the requirements, as well as being inquisitive with other students if you see their posts and are interested in learning more. If all students just post their opinions, there’s little interaction or learning going on. According to U.S. News’ “Online Course Discussion Boards: What to Expect,” research suggests students learn more deeply through frequent conversation and debates on academic topics.
- Edit your post. Write in clear and complete sentences; don’t use acronyms or emojis you would use in text messages or multiple exclamation points to punctuate a sentence. You want to come off as a professional. Read over the post a couple times to correct any grammar or spelling mistakes and make sure someone other than yourself can easily understand your points by what you’ve written.
You can participate in an online degree program anywhere, but an on-campus experience provides access to an abundance of facilities, like libraries, meeting spaces and labs. Consider if there are on-campus options in your local area, maybe close to your home or work, that wouldn’t be out of the way for you in your daily routine. Geography comes into play purely as a lifestyle preference. If you or your spouse is in the military and expected to move frequently or your career requires regular travel, on-campus options may be challenging for you. A definite bonus with online courses is that you don’t have to commute or fight for parking spaces on campus.
The preference of an online or on-campus degree program is up to the student. Consider all options before making a decision, and find out if any credits you obtain with either option will transfer should you decide to switch paths. It’s smart to keep your options open if your circumstances change or you’re not getting what you need out of the path you originally took.