Online College vs. Traditional College
Times are changing when it comes to choosing a college. While it used to be the “norm” for students to graduate high school and immediately enroll in a traditional public or private college, the trends are shifting to meet the needs of adult students.
Now more than ever, high school graduates are immediately entering the workforce and adult students are returning to school in order to earn a degree to enhance their current job prospects or make a complete career change.
With a large section of a college’s student body now juggling obligations from career and family along with earning a degree, many schools are offering online degree programs that prepare students for a wide variety of occupational fields.
What is an online college?
The term “online college” may give the impression of a virtual university existing only in cyberspace – but this is rarely the case.
While there are a select number of reputable universities that offer classes exclusively online, most of the online degree programs that you see are virtual extensions of traditional campus-based colleges and universities.
With the changing trends of the student body population and new technology that makes online learning more effective, many of the nation’s top-ranked universities are offering online degree programs to supplement their traditional on-campus offerings.
Below are some of the most popular degrees being offered online:
- Business Administration
- Information Technology (IT)
- Liberal Arts
- Criminal Justice
- Education / Teaching
With a variety of courses available and the flexibility of logging on to your classes anytime and anywhere, it’s no wonder that online degrees are becoming a popular choice for students across the country!
If you are one of the nearly 6 million students interested in taking online classes instead of commuting to campus, then chances are that you have a lot of questions about how to get started!
Below, we will answer some of the most common questions that we receive about the differences between online and traditional degree programs to help you get started in taking the next step in your educational journey.
Are online colleges reputable?
A major concern for students looking into online education is determining whether their degree will be reputable. This is a valid concern, and doing your research beforehand will help ensure that the university you choose has recognized degree programs that hold the same esteem as traditional, on-campus universities.
One of the most important factors to consider when choosing a reputable online college is the accreditation of the university.
What is accreditation and why is it so important?
Accreditation refers to the voluntary review process that a university undergoes to ensure that their curriculum is up to high quality standards. It is essential that you examine the accreditation of the online college degree program that you are considering before enrolling. The U.S. Department of Education recognizes several regional accreditation agencies, but there are many more national agencies that include:
The U.S. Department of Education recognizes several regional accreditation agencies (the most respected accreditation type), but there are other national agencies that include:
- Accrediting Council for Continuing Education and Training
- Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools
- Distance Education Accrediting Commission
By choosing an accredited college, you have a much higher chance of avoiding “degree mill” schools that are not recognized in the professional world. Additionally, if you want to move on to graduate school or enter into a career that requires licensing, having a degree from an accredited college is often a necessity.
What degrees are offered online?
While there are many different degrees offered online, not all programs lend themselves to distance learning.
For example, if you are interested in the medical field, there are several online degree programs available for medical assisting, billing and coding, or transcription that can help you get a jump-start on a new career. However, if you are interested in becoming a nurse or doctor, that type of degree can only be achieved through in-person classes in order to learn the practical skills needed to be successful in the workplace.
A few of the popular fields in which you can earn an online degree through some of the nation’s top universities include:
- Business Administration
- General Studies
- Social Work
- Art and Design
If you are interested in a field of study that requires labs, residencies, or on-site practicums, you will likely need to attend a traditional college in order to fulfill the requirements of the degree program.
What about tuition and financing?
The cost of going to college can be a major concern for students, and in many areas of the country, tuition costs are on the rise. While online education may be an option for lowering these costs, in many cases an online degree program has similar tuition to a traditional degree.
However, this all depends on your university!
Some colleges offer in-state tuition prices for students taking online classes, while others have e-tuition programs that help cut your costs.
Even if your college of choice doesn’t have a price break for online students, there are many other options to obtain financing, including:
- State and federal grants
- Employer tuition benefits
- Student loans
With online degrees becoming more commonplace, it is getting easier than ever to obtain financing for these degree programs. In general, taking out student loans or applying for financial aid with the FASFA involves the same process, regardless of whether you are taking classes online or on-campus.
Can you get the social experience of college in an online setting?
When people think of college, they often think of the lifestyle and atmosphere as much as the educational journey. There’s no doubt that attending traditional college classes gives you the opportunity to personally interact with and meet a variety of people, but that doesn’t mean that socialization is impossible if you take classes online!
Although online students won’t find themselves hanging out in the college lobby between classes, they will have access to a variety of high-tech software options that let them connect with faculty and classmates. Many universities utilize discussion boards, virtual lectures, and online workshops to help students connect with each other and get the most out of their college years.
Will my degree be different if I earn it through an online college?
This is a common question for those interested in earning their degree online, and the short answer is – no, the degree you earn online will have the same distinctions as one earned on-campus.
However, we would like to reiterate the importance of researching your intended college’s reputation and accreditation!
While your degree and transcript will not say “online student”, carefully choosing the right university is just as vital as when choosing a traditional college. Once you graduate and enter the workforce, a degree from a reputable college will go much further than one from a virtual “degree mill” school that has no professional credentials or accreditations.
Additionally, a regionally accredited university allows you to transfer your college credits to any college’s similar degree plan to help you continue pursuing your education!
How do online classes work?
Online classes typically come in one of two different forms – synchronous and asynchronous.
Synchronous classes feel much like traditional college courses in that you will be required to “show up” for class at specific times throughout the week. Once logged in to your online class, you will likely listen to live virtual lectures from your professor or participate in online group discussions with your classmates. This can be an excellent option for students that need a little more structure within their online program to help them stay accountable.
In asynchronous classes, you have the ultimate in flexibility to work at a pace that suits your lifestyle. This option is popular for students who have family or work obligations and may only be available at odd hours to complete coursework. In this type of online setting, you will also communicate with your classmates and professor through email, online schedules, discussion boards, and recorded lectures. As long as you turn your course work in by the required due dates, you may have the option with asynchronous classes to work ahead and complete the course at a faster pace than traditional students.
What are the benefits of online education?
There is a reason that online degrees have become so popular in the last several years, and the flexibility that they offer is a big draw for many students.
With the changing economy, some students find that it is necessary for them to hold down full-time jobs while attending college, and online degree programs make a higher education more feasible. For other students, they may already be working in the professional world and are ready to enhance their skills to gain a promotion or find that they want to change the entire direction of their career with a new degree.
Online College vs. Traditional College
When comparing online colleges vs. traditional colleges, there are several benefits to attending college online — beyond the scheduling flexibility it offers:
- Opportunity to connect with a nationwide, diverse network of students and faculty
- The chance to attend virtual workshops and lectures from top experts in the field
- No need to commute long distances to attend school
- Online libraries and research resources to assist with course work
- Virtual mentoring and tutoring programs
- Options to take accelerated classes or work through the summer to earn your degree faster
- Opportunity to participate in your college’s on-site graduation ceremony
While on-campus classes have definite benefits as well, attending college online is a viable, reputable option for adult students looking to continue their education from the comfort of their own home.
How do I know if an online degree program is right for me?
Online learning isn’t for everyone, and you have to be willing to take your education into your own hands in order to be successful. For students that are highly organized, motivated, and enjoy learning at their own pace, it can be an excellent option.
Traditional college classes tend to work better for students that prefer “hands-on” learning, or need the extra motivation of having scheduled classes to help keep them on track. It also provides the opportunity for young adults to experience life away from home if they choose to enroll in a college that offers residency options.
When it comes down to it, both online colleges and traditional on-campus schools offer reputable options for students to earn a degree to reach their long-term career goals. With either option, it is essential that you are diligent about doing your research into the schools you are interested in to determine if it a good fit for your needs.
With hard work and dedication, your degree can set the stage for a fulfilling, lasting career – regardless of whether you attended classes in a lecture hall or from your living room couch!