Is Online College Right for You? How Does It Work?

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Around the country, millions of students are attending school virtually now in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. While many of those students are eager to get back to class, some of them may be considering online education on a more permanent basis. Whether you’re graduating from high school this year or seeking out higher education after years in the working world, online colleges offer a more flexible way of earning a degree. 

 

With more than 23,000 accredited, fully online degree programs, prospective students have plenty of options when it comes to choosing a school. But how does online college work? Keep reading to learn about the many colleges that allow students to earn a degree online.

 

How Does Online College Work?

 

Online colleges allow students to earn their degrees primarily or entirely via an internet-connected computer. So, how do online college classes work? In general, the coursework is similar to what they would learn in a physical classroom. Online courses typically last the same amount of time and feature similar assignments and deadlines. Both options require students to spend time studying after class.

 

In some cases, online classes require students to attend virtual lectures at a set time each week. These courses are known as synchronous and allow students to view lectures in real time. However, other colleges and programs let students learn on their own schedules. With asynchronous online classes, students have more flexibility for working and spending time with family. Additionally, online colleges may mandate that students attend online meetings with professors or contribute to virtual class discussions or message boards. 

 

While tuition costs are similar whether students attend classes online or in person, individuals considering online colleges should note that overall costs tend to be far lower. Because students aren’t living on campus or commuting to school, they don’t have to pay for on-site room and board, parking, or gas. Additionally, many online classes use digital course materials — so you might just save money on that expensive textbook. It’s worth noting that students attending accredited online colleges are eligible for the same grants, scholarships, and federal loans as those offered to students at traditional schools.

 

Pros and Cons of Online College

 

Like most things in life, attending online college comes with both benefits and drawbacks. 

So, how does online college work to improve your life? Here are some of the pros that come with a virtual education.

 

Pros of Online College

 

Freedom to Study From Anywhere

One of the best reasons to pursue an online degree is that you can learn from anywhere in the world. After all, not all colleges offer the same coursework. If you want to major in a topic only offered at a select handful of schools, online colleges allow you to pursue your goals without relocating. 

 

Opportunity to Study While Working

Online learning also enables students to earn an education no matter how busy their daily lives. This benefit is particularly essential for students who are also working part-time or full-time or taking care of kids or elderly parents. If schedule is going to be an issue, you might want to consider schools with asynchronous classes over those that require you to attend class at a particular time of day.

 

Faster Path to Graduation

The costs and schedules associated with traditional colleges mean that it generally takes students longer to graduate. With online coursework, students often enjoy a faster path to earning a degree. Because you’re studying online (and at your own pace) you may be able to complete courses in less time. Additionally, you can take courses over the summer and on holiday breaks, times when traditional schools are generally closed.

 

Offline Opportunities

Virtual students can still take advantage of on-campus opportunities and resources. Many online colleges host events at which classmates can interact with one another and their professors. If you live close to campus, you may even be able to drop by for speaking events, study groups, and career resources as well.

 

Cons of Online College

 

Of course, there are some downsides associated with online college. Here are a few of the cons that come with going to school online rather than in person.

 

Lack of a Classroom

At traditional colleges, students don’t just benefit from their professors’ expertise. They also learn by listening to their fellow classmates’ wisdom and experiences. Without a physical classroom, students often struggle to feel like part of a community. Even if there is a message board, they might not be as likely to share their thoughts and opinions with people they can’t see face to face. 

 

Discipline Requirement

Some students excel at learning and studying on their own. Others need guidance and direction to achieve their academic goals. If you struggle with discipline and self-direction, you might have a hard time managing your time while attending online college.

 

Scams

These days, many of the country’s top colleges offer online degree programs. However, not all online colleges are created equal. Students considering virtual education need to look out for unaccredited and for-profit schools that confer meaningless degrees. As a rule of thumb, avoid schools with excessively short programs and guaranteed scholarships. 

 

Stigma

Although online programs are more popular than ever, some employers are still critical of students who earned their degrees online. If you opt for an online college, you may find yourself explaining to people that your degree is just as valid as those earned at a traditional school.

Is Online College Right for You?

 

While anyone can benefit from earning an education online, some students are especially suited to a virtual degree program. The best candidates for online college include those who are limited by health or geographic factors. For example, students who live in rural communities that are hours from the nearest university might want to consider attending college online. Similarly, individuals with physical challenges or disabilities could have an easier time studying via the internet. 

 

Additionally, online college is a great choice for adults looking to switch careers. Going back to school requires a serious financial investment. With online college, you can try one or more classes before making a larger commitment to a new field. If you like the coursework, you can always opt to enroll in more classes or even leave your current job to study full time.

 

Finally, some students may simply prefer to study online. If you’re shy, introverted, or hesitant to speak up in a packed classroom of strangers, you might have an easier time contributing to virtual class discussions. 

 

Applying to a range of colleges, including target, reach, and safety schools, gives you the best shot at future success. While CollegeVine’s chancing engine doesn’t include online colleges, it’s a great way to assess your odds of being accepted to traditional institutions. Our data-driven tool is based on info from thousands of students around the U.S. and not only lets you know your chances of acceptance, but also how to improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today and take the first step on the road to your goals.

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April Maguire
Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
A graduate of the Master of Professional Writing program at USC, April Maguire taught freshman composition while earning her degree. Over the years, she has worked as a writer, editor, tutor, and content manager. Currently, she operates a freelance writing business and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their three rowdy cats.