Weighing Online Vs. In-Person Graduate Degrees
Remote learning has been on the rise for decades. When COVID-19 took the world by storm in 2020, it exploded. Where once eLearning was viewed with a degree of suspicion, it’s now a standard aspect of virtually every major university’s course catalog. But is it the best way to get an advanced degree? College is hard. Graduate school is even harder. When the margins for success are so hard, is it sensible to consider remote learning? While the data is still coming in, many students have found great luck with online college courses. Increased accessibility is one of the most frequently cited benefits of seeking an online degree. However, that doesn’t mean that it is right for everyone. In this article, we take an in-depth look at the pros and cons of seeking your graduate degree online.
The Benefits Of Pursuing Online Graduate Degrees
1. eLearning Increases Flexibility
Online learning is typically more flexible than brick-and-mortar education. Some remote classes are extremely flexible, allowing students to work whenever it suits them. In these courses, the student is given a set amount of work to complete over a pre-determined period of time. As long as the student meets their deadlines, they will succeed in the class.
Other online classes maintain a more traditional schedule. They will have set meeting periods in which students are expected to log in and participate in remote lectures. Even eLearning programs that utilize a traditional class structure are more accessible than in-person classes. The average commute in the United States is thirty minutes. That’s about an hour a day you can apply towards studying, homework, or other important tasks.
2. eLearning Lets You Attend Any University
Nearly all major universities now have online programs, even for curriculums like nursing school which used to be strictly in-person. This is a major advantage for people who want to go to schools that specialize in their discipline but aren’t necessarily willing to move across the country to make that happen.
For people with deep roots in their communities who aren’t able to pack up and leave for a few years, this can be game-changing. Online programs also connect students with resources from all over the world. Because no one is sharing a physical space, online professors can arrange for guest lectures and other unique opportunities from professionals located all over the world.
3. eLearning Can Be Cheaper
Some online programs will provide a minor discount on tuition to compensate for the fact that the student is not making use of physical infrastructure. These discounts, though not guaranteed, are a straightforward way to save money while pursuing an online degree.
However, there are also indirect ways to save money while pursuing your graduate degree online. Because you can virtually attend any school in the world, all from the comfort of your home, you will not need to utilize university room and board services. This can save you tens of thousands of dollars throughout the course of your program.
Online learning is also more flexible because you don’t need to be within proximity of the university. While someone attending a graduate program in person may feel obligated to complete their studies as quickly as possible so that they can return home, people enrolled online can work at their own pace. This is particularly advantageous if you would like to get your degree without taking out any loans. While learning online, you can take as many classes as you can comfortably afford to pay for. This will save you thousands of dollars in interest payments.
While online learning can be an accessible way to get your graduate degree, that’s not to say that it is perfect. There are several common complaints that people looking for a graduate program should keep in mind before pursuing an online degree.
- Lack of accountability
We listed flexibility as a pro in an earlier section. However, for some people, the lack of structure inherent to many online programs can do more harm than good. If you are the type of person who relies heavily on external motivation, an online program may not be a good fit for you.
- Social isolation
College can be a great place to make like-minded friends and even establish professional relationships that can help jumpstart your career upon graduation. While these relationships are still possible with online learning, they often can be more elusive.
- Cheating is too easy
While it’s arguable that this is not necessarily a problem for honest students, it is also worth pointing out that it is easier to take shortcuts online than it is in physical classrooms. While these opportunities to cheat may boost your grade, cheating will ultimately come at the cost of your comprehension.
More abstractly, it’s also just important to acknowledge that not everyone is naturally good at learning online. There are many different learning styles, some of which work best in a physical classroom.
Can You Network In Online Learning?
While networking does not occur as organically online as it tends to in physical spaces, many online programs are making a point of fostering relationships among students and mentors. They do this through mentorship programs, icebreaker/social online spaces, and other programs that are designed to help students establish and grow their relationships.
While social isolation is a common complaint directed at remote collaboration, opportunities are usually there for people who seek them. If networking is important to you, look for online graduate programs that make a special point of developing these opportunities.
The question of whether or not online learning is superior to traditional education is impossible to answer. Some students do great in remote learning environments. Others slip through the cracks. It may be more probable that someone in a graduate program—in other words, a skilled and experienced student—will have many of the qualities that are required for remote learning success. Even with that being the case, the choice is subjective. Think carefully about what features you require from your learning environment, and decide if online school is a good choice for you.