Online degree programs are cropping up everywhere, making going back to school easier than it's ever been. Whether you're looking for an online degree program that take your career to the next level or you're finally going to go after that art history degree, online schools offer students almost as many options as traditional colleges and universities. The primary advantage of getting your degree online is control over your schedule. Choosing between on campus and distance learning begins with understanding how you learn and work best.
Choosing a Degree
The concept of distance learning isn't new. Correspondence courses in a variety of disciplines and occupations have been around for years, but the thought of going to school online still makes a lot of people pause. Will you receive the same level of quality from online education? The short answer is yes. With hundreds of online degree programs to choose from, you're bound to find a school that's established itself as a leader in your chosen field of study and that offers degrees ranging from the associate to the doctorate level.
Choose Your Field of Study
If you've researched online degree programs at all, you might be under the impression that these schools focus primarily on business or finance degrees. While business is a strong focus--the flexibility these programs offer make them good choices for people who can't or don't want to leave their full-time jobs--you'll find programs structured for education, health care, engineering and even psychology.
The growing availability of these programs at online schools reflects the Bureau of Labor Statistics' predictions for job growth between now and 2016. Almost all of these areas--education, health care, engineering and psychology--along with certain areas of business, like finance and e-commerce, contain jobs that are slated to grow faster than the average rate for other occupations.
If your field of study is quite specialized, that can sometimes mean the decision between an online school and an on-campus school for you. Degrees in the sciences and some areas of engineering may require lab work that can only be done on campus or access to equipment you can't get anywhere else. The more you know exactly what you want to pursue and what it requires, the better you'll be able to evaluate whether an online school meets your academic needs.
Look at Your Schedule
You know what degree you want and what you want to get it in, but how do you decide whether to get it at an online school or on campus? Start by weighing the pros and cons of each option as they relate to your individual circumstances.
Online schools attract students for many reasons, but foremost for offering students the flexibility of completing their coursework when it's most convenient for them. If you've delayed going back to school because of scheduling conflicts with your full-time job, getting your degree online eliminates that roadblock.
With online schools, you generally don't have to wait for the start of the school semester to begin pursuing your degree. You'll have the option to access or download coursework on a day and time that's convenient for you and more often than not, you can set your own pace to complete a course. Online schools often allow anywhere from six months to one year to complete coursework versus having on campus school that require you to adhere to a semester calendar.
Flexibility is only one benefit of online schools. When you're trying to decide between an online school and on campus school, you'll want to consider how far you need to travel to and from campus. If you choose an online school, you'll save the time, money and wear and tear on your automobile you'd spend commuting to an on campus school. Additionally, for students who live in rural areas or are thinking of pursuing a doctorate degree, choosing an online school can mean saving on relocation costs.
Online schools generally cost less than on campus schools, but that doesn't mean they're inexpensive. Most online schools offer financial aid packages to qualified students and traditional lenders don't distinguish between online schools and on campus schools.
However, online schools usually allow you to pay by the course versus enrolling--and paying for--the minimum number of credits required by most on-campus programs. You may not save thousands by choosing an online school, but you have the ability to maximize the number of dollars you have in your pocket at a given time.
How Do You Work Best?
Knowing how you work best is a key piece of information you'll need when you're choosing between an online school and an on campus school. You may love the idea of working on your own schedule and at your own pace, but succeeding at an online school requires self-discipline and good time management skills.
In reality, some people--and you may be one of them--perform better when they're accountable to someone other than themselves. Be honest with yourself about your ability to define a study schedule and stick to it. If you believe you'll struggle with time management, then pursuing your entire degree at an online school may not be the right decision for you.
Combining Online and On Campus Courses
Choosing between an online school and an on campus school doesn't have to come down to all or nothing. In several cases, it's possible to take online and on campus courses and often at the same time.
Your work schedule and other obligations may limit your availability to be on campus which can add years to your degree timeline. Adding courses from an online school to your on campus curriculum gives you the opportunity to accelerate that timeline. You could also begin a program online and make your way to campus later, so long as the online school is accredited by a reputable accreditation agency and the on campus school accepts your credits for transfer.