Thinking about heading back to school? If so, you’re likely wondering whether an online degree is worth it or not.
What will your prospective employers think? What about the cost – and is there any financial aid? How difficult will it be for you to complete your courses outside of the typical classroom setting?
All of these questions are valid ones and certainly worth asking. When you’re trying to figure out what to expect as an online student and if getting an online degree is even worth it, it may help to consider some of the following information.
What Online Degree Programs Are Best?
From computer science to anthropology – you can study just about anything you want online. However, you might be wondering which online education programs are the best. Whether you are searching for a bachelor’s distance learning degree or a master’s, you will likely have thousands of options to choose from.
It may help for you to look at rankings from some of the country’s top publications, such as The Princeton Review and U.S. News & World Report. These publications look at all kinds of factors when it comes to determining the best online degrees, including graduation rates, industry reputation, and faculty credentials.
Some of the best schools for master’s-seeking students, according to the U.S. News & World Report, include Clemson University, the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign and the University of Florida. Again, however, the best online school for you will vary depending on what you would like to study, how much you are willing to pay, and other variables. Do your research!
Benefits Of Online Degrees
Online degrees offer several distinct advantages. While many universities, like most of the country’s premier Ivy League institutions and partner programs, still emphasize classroom-based instruction in a more traditional sense, most schools have gone on to offer a majority of their degrees completely online and for distance learners. There are even some schools out there that cater singularly to online students.
Of the many advantages of online degrees, you may want to consider some of the following.
For example, online learners don’t have to travel to campus in order to earn a degree. They can complete all of their classes from the comfort of their own homes. This is beneficial not only because they can work their class schedules around other life commitments, like caring for children or working full-time, but it also significantly reduces the cost of attending college – no room and board or transportation fees to worry about, after all!
Because of this, online degrees can help students avoid crushing student loan debt. Most employers view online degrees with the same level of credibility as they do traditional degrees, too. Most of the country’s more notable (and larger) online programs also have vast alumni networks. Not only will your employer likely not even realize that you earned your degree online, but if they do, it could earn you even more respect for your focus and time management skills.
Disadvantages Of Online Degrees
Naturally, pursuing an online degree program is not right for everyone. There are several variables you will want to consider when you are deciding whether an online degree program is right for you. Some students naturally thrive more in a face-to-face, collaborative environment.
Unfortunately, there are still some skeptics when it comes to the quality of online degree programs. A 2019 study from the Journal of Employment Counseling found that many employers do not trust online colleges the same way they value traditional ones. Although your employer might not realize that your degree was earned online, they might end up caring if they do find out later.
In this sense, it makes sense to look into the credibility of your online program before you apply. If you’re applying to a program at a for-profit school, be skeptical – these schools tend to have higher rates of student loan default than other schools, primarily because of their predatory financial aid and admissions processes.
You will also want to find an online degree that offers you the ability to gain hands-on experience. This is valued highly by employers and is something that tends to be lacking in distance programs. If you’re planning on majoring in a field that is highly experiential at its core – such as agriculture, for example – you may want to narrow your search to only campus-based programs.
The numbers don’t lie when it comes to online programs, either. Sadly, dropout rates are higher or online learners – up to 700% more so, in fact, according to a 2017 study by Brigham Young University scholars.
Plus, let’s face it – the online learning environment isn’t for everyone. While some students thrive with the independence and autonomy they get in learning in a remote setting, many students prefer to work in a more collaborative environment.
Are Online Degree Programs Easier Than On-Campus?
While online courses are certainly easier to access than on-campus ones, that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are easier. More convenient, yes – but not easier. You may be able to attend programs that weren’t previously available to you due to time or logistical constraints by the atypical stressors of earning a college degree will still be there.
You will still need to spend the same amount of time each week on reviewing course materials and practicing in your classes. While you can cut the commute out of the equation, you’re still going to have plenty of homework, quizzes, and tests to worry about.
Tips For Success With Online Courses
Many of the same success tips you might follow when taking courses on campus will apply when you are taking classes online, too.
For example, you should plan ahead. On average, you should dedicate at least 8-12 hours per week of study time to each course in which you are enrolled. Expect your courses to be more challenging and for difficulties to pop up along the way.
The benefit of taking online courses is that many are offered in accelerated five- or eight-week chunks. Because of this, you can move through your requirements more quickly without having to travel to campus for courses at present times – times that may conflict with other things you have going on.
Are Online Degrees More Affordable Than Partner Programs On Campus?
Sometimes. It can be hard to get a handle on how much an online program costs, particularly when you consider that many universities charge hidden fees for things you might not anticipate, like e-learning fees or “technology” fees.
That said, the flexibility of an online degree presents an advantage in that you might be able to continue your current work schedule as a college student. The income you’ll be able to earn will help keep you afloat and make it easier for you to earn your degree without having to accrue massive student loan debt.
There are several other ways you can reduce the cost of your degree, too. For example, you might want to consider employer partnerships to see if your company will sponsor you going back to school. You should also research the various costs and fees that go into online education so you know what you are getting yourself into.
Do Employers Respect Online Degrees?
In the past, employers and other universities looked down upon online learning experiences. However, the vast majority of employers nowadays view online degrees with the same credibility as they view on-campus programs. Because of this, you shouldn’t have a hard time finding a job after you’ve earned an online diploma.
Can An Online Degree Get You A Job?
They can – but there are steps you should take to maximize your success in the job search. For example, participate in local internships and volunteer opportunities to gain more hands-on experience. Look into alumni networks and student organizations and do your very best to keep your grades up. If you can do that, your online degree should be just as useful at helping you find a job as a degree that you earned in the more traditional sense.
If you’re thinking about pursuing an online degree, there is certainly a lot to consider. Make the most of the college search process – and know that online degree programs are worth it, but only if they match well with your unique career goals and preferences.
Are Online Degrees Worth It: FAQ
Is There Financial Aid For Online Colleges?
Yes. Most of the time (though certainly not always) online learners are eligible for the same financial aid as are students who study on campus. Make sure you fill out the FAFSA (the Free Application for Federal Student Aid) and research all of the grants, scholarships, and other awards that are available to you.
Will My Employer Know That I Got My Degree Online?
Sometimes – though not always. In most cases, universities do not indicate whether a degree was earned on campus or online. Your employer may ask you to disclose this information, but most of the time, that is not the case.
Can I Transfer Into An Online Program?
Yes. As long as you attended an accredited school, you can usually bring in credits to another program. Just check with your admissions counselors or advisors to make sure this is the case.
Does My Online Program Need To Be Accredited?
Yes. No matter whether you are applying for an online or on-campus program, it is important that you look for a degree that is fully accredited. One that is unaccredited will make it harder for you to obtain financial aid. It will also make it nearly impossible for you to transfer credits into another institution should you decide to change schools. Many employers also will not consider job applicants who have degrees from unaccredited institutions.
How Do I Apply For An Online Degree?
Check in with the admissions office at the school to which you intend to apply. Each university has different requirements, but you will usually need to start by submitting an online application.
Then, you can provide supplementary materials like transcripts (from your high school or bachelor’s program, depending on what kind of degree you are applying for). You may also need to submit things like SAT, ACT, or GRE test scores, a personal statement, a resume, and letters of recommendation.
Is Online Learning Easier Than A Traditional Classroom Setting?
Not necessarily. While you won’t have to juggle a commute into your daily schedule as a college student, the courses are usually about the same when it comes to rigor and difficulty. If you aren’t the most tech-savvy person, online classes can actually be even harder.
What Is The Return On Investment For Online Degrees?
Online degrees have a significant return on investment. In fact, more than 85% of students think that their degrees either had or will have a positive return on investment. As long as you put the time and effort into making the most of your studies, you shouldn’t see a significant difference in the return on investment when you compare on-campus degrees to online ones.