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Online Vs. On Campus Education

While online learning has been around for a few decades now, the last few years have seen huge growth in the number and quality of online degree programs. Nearly one-third of all students now take at least one course online, according to the 2010 Sloan Survey of Online Learning. The economic downturn is partly responsible for the growing demand in online education, but it has also resulted in an increased demand for higher education overall, with increased demand at traditional on campus colleges and universities as well. But how do you go about choosing between an on campus, online, or hybrid degree program? The decision will depend much on what you want to study, how you are motivated and what type of learner you are, your budget for higher education, and where you live versus where you want to go to school. Let’s take a look at some of these factors.


Degree Program & Field of Study

If you are looking into an Associate, Bachelor’s, or Master’s degree program, both online and on campus options are plentiful. In addition, many established colleges and universities now offer hybrid programs for these degrees, in which students take some courses online and others in a traditional classroom or lecture hall. In some cases, the courses taken online are chosen by the student, and in others they are required to be taken online by the college or university. For example, some freshman-level general college required courses may only be offered online while the more specialized courses within the student’s major will be taken in person.


Choosing between on campus or online education may also depend on your desired major or area of specialization. Not all fields of study are offered at all online colleges and universities. Many online schools offer degrees in the following subject areas:

  • Arts/Design
  • Business
  • Computers and IT
  • Criminal Justice
  • Culinary and Hospitality Services
  • Education
  • Engineering, Science, and Technology
  • Healthcare
  • Legal/paralegal
  • Liberal Arts
  • Nursing
  • Psychology
  • Religion
  • Social Sciences


Keep in mind, however, that this is by no means a complete list, and the number of degree programs and areas of specialization are expanding at many online colleges and universities all the time. Certainly check with any schools you are considering to be certain that they offer the degree program you are interested in. If you are not sure what your undergraduate major will be, an on campus school that allows you to explore many different electives in your first year before declaring a major may be a good option. An important point to keep in mind is whether your area of study will benefit or suffer from not being face-to-face with your teachers, peers, and equipment. For example, some fields of study that require physical lab work and/or hands-on activities are not well suited to online schools.


Motivation & Learning Style

A key benefit to online colleges and universities is the degree of flexibility afforded to the students in terms of how, when, and how long they spend on each course. Most online classes allow students to study at their own pace within a certain number of months to complete the course. However, some students who are motivated by and prefer the structure and prescribed time in which to take and complete a course on campus may find the flexibility of online courses to be too much for them to stay focused. So, it’s important to know how self-motivated and focused you are as a learner and student. In addition, keep in mind that the quality of your education -- regardless of whether it is online or on campus -- will be enhanced by real-time interaction with your teachers and among your peers. With on campus education, such interaction is a given, and one of the hallmarks of learning face-to-face. However, not all online schools are created equal in this way. As you compare online schools, check to see if they offer chat groups, messaging, and other forms of interaction with students and teachers.


School Access

Access for a wider range of students is a big argument in favor of online degree programs, as they enable many more students to attend college than would otherwise be able to due to geography, finances, and juggling the demands of work and family. If you are able to relocate to attend college anywhere, you have the most options open to you as you select a school. And, if you live near a large state university, the promise of in-state college tuition may make attendance a very attractive option. However, if you live far from any good colleges or universities and are unable to relocate, online education may be an option that puts college within your reach.


Budget for Higher Education

The school you choose to attend for college or graduate school will also likely depend on your overall education budget, in addition to other factors. Tuition is on the rise across major universities, and tuition varies greatly across both online and on campus colleges and universities. If you think it will be less expensive to attend an online school, you may be right, but it really depends on the program. Some online schools charge tuition rates in line with their on campus equivalents. You may, however, save money on transportation, housing, meals, and other expenses associated with on campus education. So, it’s important to evaluate the tuition, fees, and other expenses you will incur at any on campus or online schools you may be considering. Also, keep in mind that online schools offering bargain-basement tuition rates are often scams. These diploma mills are often unaccredited, so be sure to check the accreditation of any schools -- online or otherwise -- that you may be considering.

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