Here is something you probably didn’t know about me: after graduating high school, I did the whole college thing. I moved out of my parent’s suburban ranch house in New Jersey to the freshman dorm rooms at Temple University’s inner-city college campus (go Owls!). Honestly, living in Philadelphia and attending college was great. I was surrounded by new friends, I could walk or take the subway anywhere that I needed to be, and I had the freedom from my parents that I imagine almost every 18-year old desires.
There was only one inconvenience about my seemingly perfect life: a long-distance relationship. I yearned to be alongside my boyfriend (now husband), but I didn’t want to jeopardize my future career opportunities by postponing my college education. In short, I wanted it all. I wanted to go to school, I wanted to work, and most of all, I wanted to be there to support my amazing boyfriend (husband) along his chosen journey, and I wanted him nearby to support me.
After two years of attending college on-campus, I decided to switch to my university’s online degree program. Overall, I have completed exactly half of my bachelor’s degree in-person, and half of it completely online, thousands of miles away from campus. (Okay, I have a few more credits until I graduate, but you get the point). In short, I have real experience on both sides of the college spectrum, and I am here to offer advice to those that need it.
How does online college work?
There are many different types of online college degree programs available today. For my specific accounting degree program, here are a few of the activities students may have to perform each week:
- Read a chapter in a book or some articles online
- Watch a few video lectures
- Ask/answer questions in online discussion boards
- Submit homework/projects
- Meet virtually with other classmates*
- Attend an online class each week*
There are stars next to the last two examples because not every online program requires students to meet online. My program, however, does. When it is time for my class, I log into a program called Webex where the teacher is the presenter of the class. Each student is required to have a working webcam and microphone to participate in class. Students can talk, raise their hand with a click of the button, and can even be sent to private groups to discuss concepts. My husband’s online school does not have sessions that he is required to attend. He does all the work online, and only contacts the professor if he needs help with something. Most online programs are like my husband’s program.
As I said, I have experience taking college classes both online and in-person. I’m not going to declare either option as superior since I think it really depends on each person and his or her unique situation. However, I am going to discuss some Pros and Cons of each side of the spectrum based on my honest experiences.
Pros of Online College Classes:
Online School is cheaper (in most cases)
If you read my introduction, you know that money is not the reason why I switched to online school. However, it is one of the most beneficial perks that came alongside my transition. With all financial aid factors set aside, let’s just say that online college is costing me about a third, if not less, of what it was costing me to attend and live at an actual college campus. While there are many other benefits of online schooling, financial cost is something worthwhile to consider when deciding between attending college online or in-person.
Online School is more convenient
Just got home from the gym? No problem. Running late from work? No problem. Sick? No problem. Believe it or not, I have even heard of people attending my online classes while they are commuting home from work since you can connect to our classes from your cellphone! This is the convenient aspect of online schooling. If you have WIFI or mobile data, you can attend the classes or do your homework anywhere you want. This is especially useful for people that must work full-time jobs or have children at home. You could even obtain your degree while being one of those super cool people that spend their lives traveling. You never have to be anywhere while you are going to school except online (where most of us spend a majority of the day anyway :P)
Online School teaches you Practical Online Skills
When you go to school online, you will likely become familiar with tools such as Webex, Skype, GoTo Meetings, the numerous Google tools, and more. Before attending school online, I was not very familiar with any of these online communication programs. When I worked at my internship last summer, I had to utilize several of these programs daily. I was at an advantage because I already knew how to use these tools thanks to my online classes. In today’s business world, it is a great skill to know how to efficiently use technology to communicate with others. Going to school online has made me a more tech-savvy individual overall and taught me how to use programs that I might not have learned about otherwise.
Online School forces you to be independent, disciplined, and self-motivated
I need to be a lot more independent going to school online. There is a lot less interaction with professors and other students. The professor rarely sends reminders about upcoming projects. Instead, students must to become aware of project deadlines. They also must have the motivation and discipline to study harder than in-class students since there are less resources available online such as study groups, tutors, etc. While this may sound like a negative aspect of online schooling, I think it can be a good thing for students to learn to be disciplined and motivated in these ways. You’ll quickly learn how important it is for you to finish your degree, and how badly you want to do so.
Online School will improve your planning capabilities.
I never imagined that I would say this, but here it goes: I bought and started using an agenda. With no reminders from teachers, it is hard to keep track of all my due dates as well as my work schedule. If my boss asks me if I can stay late on a Thursday night, I will look in my agenda and check that I don’t have any assignments due. Or, if I know I have a busy week coming up, I will look at my due dates and do my homework ahead of time. When I was going to school in person, teachers were constantly reminding us about tests and assignments coming up, so I never really had to look in my planner to remember them. Now, I would be lost without one. Going to school online has made me a more responsible an careful planner.
Cons of Online College Classes:
Online school can get lonely
This is probably the most obvious con about online schooling. One of the great aspects of going to school on campus is that there are plenty of other students in your class that you can easily communicate with about assignments, or other school topics. When you go to school online, the social aspect of going to school is basically nonexistent. While I had to complete a few group projects in some of my online classes, the communication between students was strictly about the project. It is a lot harder to make connections with other students in your field when you are taking classes online.
Online school can get boring
Classes seem a lot more repetitive when you go to school online. It seems as if every class includes doing homework each week, taking a quiz, and taking a test every 3rd week or so. One thing I miss about my in-person classes is the discussions we would have in class that made topics more interesting. While some of my online classes utilized discussion boards to talk about topics, the online version of a discussion is just not as entertaining as listening to people discuss things in person. Think about watching a musical in person vs. watching the recorded movie version. While the recorded version might be good, it just does not capture the same energy or excitement as the live version of the play.
It may take longer to get your degree online
At my college, there are a lot less classes offered online than in-person. Unfortunately, there is usually only one section of each class offered each semester and some classes are only offered certain times of the year. When going to school in person, there were many sections of a class offered every semester, so it was unlikely that you would not be able to find a spot in a required class. Additionally, many online students are also full-time employees, so they may take on a lighter workload each semester. If you have a set date on when you plan to graduate college, then online schooling may not be the right choice for you.
There are less perks online – counseling, internships, tutors to name a few
While I do have an online counselor for my schooling, I cannot just walk into her office to ask a question any time that I wish. While I could call or send an email to my school’s offices, it is sometimes easier to have a face-to-face conversation with someone. Additionally, it may be harder to find internships online if you do not have access to your school’s career fairs or job postings. Lastly, there are very little tutoring options for online students. As I stated above, online schooling requires you to be a lot more independent. While I think this is a good skill to learn, it can also be a bit frustrating when it comes to having resources
It’s hard to stay focused online
This is pretty obvious. The more time you spend online, the more distractions there are. Today, we have Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news, Google, Amazon, all at the touch of a button. You literally do not have to get up from your desk to make phone calls, watch TV, or go shopping. It can be a lot harder to focus on school work when the entirety of your school is online. While many on-campus students may have this problem as well, it is worse for online students since they usually spend more time on the computer. When I attend my class online or take a test online, it is always tempting to check in on Facebook or my blog. This disrupts my focus.
While I am personally a huge fan of online schooling, it is not for everyone. Before deciding between going to college online or in-person, there are many aspects to consider. I hope my experiences have painted a better picture for all those that are interested.