Before signing up for web-based courses, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of online school. Since the 1990s, online higher education has become increasingly popular. The National Center for Education Statistics counts 6.65 million students taking online college courses. Nearly half, or 3.1 million, are completing their entire degree online. Thirty-three percent of American post-secondary pupils now take at least one distance course. The Sloan Consortium has reported a 21 percent uptick in online course enrollment. Online colleges are continually launching new courses and programs to expand their virtual access. Studying online comes with plenty of perks, especially convenience and affordability. However, online classroom environments aren’t right for everyone. Some learners prefer or need a traditional face-to-face college program to succeed. Registering for any college courses must be an informed decision. For that reason, we’ve devoted this article to exploring 10 pros and cons of online school.
Table of Contents:
- Flexible Scheduling
- Bigger Variety of Courses
- No (or Few) Campus Commutes
- Engaging Multimedia Tools
- Accelerated Learning Options
- Cheaper Course Tuition Rates
- Technology Skill Development
- More Diverse Student Body
- Better for Our Global Environment
- Participation in Discussion Boards
- Less Social Interaction
- Limited Support From Professors
- Potential Technological Troubles
- Lack of Accountability
- Fewer Financial Aid Options
- Poor Reputation in Some Fields
- Difficulty Transferring Credits
- Frequent Classroom Distractions
- Threat of Online Diploma Mills
- Test Proctoring Requirements
Pros of Attending an Online College
1. Flexible Scheduling
Online courses are best known for being flexible with 24/7 digital access anytime. Unlike campus-based programs, there aren’t set study times. Students can log in and access content whenever their schedule allows. Asynchronous online courses don’t meet regularly Monday through Friday in the 9-to-5 business hours. You can watch lectures during the evening then work on projects during the weekend. Whether noon or midnight, the online platform will be available to instill new knowledge. That makes fitting courses between work and family duties easier. Inside Higher Ed reports that 70 percent of these nontraditional students work full-time. The average online bachelor’s student is currently 32 years old and employed. Online schools let you keep working and making money to afford tuition.
2. Bigger Variety of Courses
Most people living outside big cities have few local college options. Finding nearby courses for uncommon majors might be impossible in small towns. Packing up your family’s life and relocating to a far-away campus to pursue your specialization could also be out of the question. Luckily, the World Wide Web puts the largest variety of degrees right at your fingertips. Online colleges offer hundreds of degree concentrations from the associate to doctoral level. Universities deliver online courses in diverse fields, such as finance, nursing, history, physics, and education. You can enroll at out-of-state colleges miles away without moving an inch. This greatly expands the pool of potential schools to choose from. You’ll be much more likely to locate degrees that meet your unique needs and professional interests.
3. No (or Few) Campus Commutes
Online schools save precious time by omitting the commute to campus. You won’t have to gas up your vehicle or hop on the bus. You won’t waste hours in traffic jams to reach the lecture hall late. You won’t have to pay extra for passes to park in campus lots. You also won’t have to hike miles across campus in all weather conditions. Instead, you can simply attend class wherever you already are. Online students usually only commute to their couch or kitchen table. Active-duty military personnel won’t have to leave their base to get quality education. After all, getting dressed and changing out of your slippers isn’t even required. Virtual schools replace unneeded travel time with more time mastering course content. When needed, online colleges keep on-campus sessions brief and infrequent.
4. Engaging Multimedia Tools
Face-to-face courses often entail a lecturer talking on and on about the topic. Some classrooms only have a whiteboard or old projector to stimulate your senses. On the other hand, online courses can draw in a bunch of unique new multimedia modes. Students can watch inspiring TED talks, access educational games, and listen to audio tapes. Online platforms, such as Canvas and Desire2Learn, have web-conferencing technology to complete team projects. Online faculty might integrate virtual labs and real-life simulations to build career skills. Content from magazines, scientific journals, CDs/DVDs, and apps can be included. Even tests come in various formats like multiple choice and essay. These various multimedia tools online can help every different type of learner succeed.
5. Accelerated Learning Options
Completing your degree faster than the normal time is much easier online. On-campus programs usually follow strict semester timelines of 15-17 weeks apiece. Breaks during the winter and summer months are automatically scheduled between these long terms. This isn’t usually the case online though. Online courses happen year-round in shorter blocks. Many online schools break the standard semester into quicker segments of six to eight weeks. Each accelerated term, students focus on finishing one to two courses before moving to the next. Fast-track online degrees have generous transfer policies to cut down study time. Some even allow Prior Learning Assessment (PLA) and life experience credits. Others offer dual degrees that waive certain credits on similar topics to get two credentials sooner. Accelerated online associate and bachelor’s degrees can take as little as 14 and 36 months.
6. Cheaper Course Tuition Rates
College costs are one concern on every student’s minds. In 2019, USA Today found that the average cost of attendance at public four-year colleges was $21,370 annually. The yearly total jumps to $48,510 at private, nonprofit universities. Finding a cheap route to college graduation may seem impossible with all of the tuition, fees, and expenses. In reality, online learning can be much more affordable. Many online schools reduce their costs for strictly Web-based courses. Several waive out-of-state fees to charge everyone a lower rate. Active-duty and veteran military discounts are common. Expensive room and board costs are completely eliminated because you won’t live in dorms. Texts can be provided in eBook format for free to cut spending. You won’t be budgeting more for gas and vehicle repairs. Hiring a babysitter for your children or sacrificing work shifts won’t be necessary either.
7. Technology Skill Development
Employers today want new hires to be tech-savvy. Whether you’re going into IT or any other profession, you’ll need to know how computers work. Online colleges provide great preparation for our digital workplaces. Students are thrust into online courses that are fully on the Internet. You’ll develop tech skills while navigating through your online content. You’ll master using Microsoft Office to write well-crafted papers. You’ll use a web cam and headphones during conferences. You’ll learn how convert files into appropriate formats for assignment submissions. You’ll use websites like Google Docs to share materials. You’ll also practice emailing professionally, doing Internet research, and making YouTube videos. Having these technology skills might give you a leg up on the competition for jobs.
8. More Diverse Student Body
Online schools attract learners from all 50 states and countries on six continents. Therefore, their online courses are generally very diverse. People of every age group, gender, ethnicity, religion, socioeconomic status, and sexual orientation can enroll in the same class. Unlike some colleges, the student body usually isn’t predominantly one group from one local region. Greater diversity helps learners realize the beauty of our human differences. Online students become more worldly to participate in our global society without prejudice. Online discussions will show diverse points of view to avoid becoming an echo chamber. That pushes learners to develop critical thinking skills and re-examine issues from other angles. Hearing about differing perspectives will also make you more self-aware.
9. Better for our Global Environment
Global warming is an existential threat that can’t be ignored. In 2018, Conservation International recorded a record-high CO2 concentration of 408 parts per million. Air temperatures have risen 1.78 degrees since the mid-20th century. More than 800 million people worldwide are vulnerable to climate change right now. Fortunately, online colleges are “green” learning options. Online learners reduce their carbon footprint by avoiding the gas emissions of campus drives. Lower traffic on the road helps reduce levels of congestion and pollution. College campuses have fewer students, so there’s less need to cut down trees and expand structures. Online colleges don’t use any natural resources like metal, wood, and plastic to build their operations. Faculty won’t waste paper on syllabi, tests, and other print-outs. Eco-friendly online students don’t have to use paper or printer ink to hand in assignments either.
10. Participation in Discussion Boards
Shy students may quiver in fear whenever they’re called on in class. Jumping into an active class discussion can be even more intimidating. Online schools often make quiet students more comfortable participating. Without actual eyes staring at them and judging, shy students can find their voice more easily. Introverts can open up and express themselves in writing rather than spoken words. You won’t be put on the spot and have to immediately respond to questions. You’ll have time to reflect, plan your answer, and type up your reaction. Unlike in some campus-based courses, students won’t have their grades penalized for simply being shy. Getting everyone, including the timid, interacting in conversations also enriches the learning environment. Hearing more ideas and perspectives helps all.
Cons of Choosing an Online University
1. Less Social Interaction
Online courses meet on the Internet rather than in physical brick-and-mortar buildings. Naturally, this cuts down dramatically on students’ interaction with one another. You won’t talk to peers before class or sit down with faculty during office hours. You won’t attend in-person study groups in the library or have cafeteria lunches together. Joining clubs and attending social events is also less likely. Most of your interactions will be through a computer screen. Dialogue between students is done through text typing instead of actual speaking. Thus, online students don’t have the same opportunities to build communication skills. Learners will have to put more effort into finding friends and getting social outside school. If not, online students can become isolated by staying home to study more often.
2. Limited Support From Professors
Learning online can make you feel like both the student and teacher. Online college programs often provide all the course material for you to read on your own. Professors are merely guides to get through their pre-written content. In some cases, you’ll watch recorded lectures where asking questions isn’t possible. To inquire further, you’ll need to email or instant message the professor. Online faculty with big course loads might take hours or days to respond. That’s a long wait time if you’re confused about a complex concept or unclear assignment directions. Limited faculty interaction frequently means less feedback too. Some online teachers might simply submit grades for your assignments without much explanation. Online school is difficult for learners needing more one-on-one attention.
3. Potential Technological Troubles
Advancing Internet technology was one of our list’s pros to online school. Nevertheless, technology can also be a con. Technological glitches are an all-too-common hassle in online learning. Internet connections going out can derail an entire day’s worth of lessons. Imagine going to submit an assignment or test when your Wi-Fi quits. Imagine trying to log into Blackboard, Moodle, or another platform to find the system’s down. Imagine contracting a virus that deletes files, such as your paper or presentation. It’s possible that tech troubles could affect your distance education. Many colleges have 24/7 online tech support to help, but you’ll still need to troubleshoot on your own. Staff won’t suddenly appear to fix your laptop or desktop. Students who lack technological skills may be overwhelmed.
4. Lack of Accountability
Online degrees are mostly self-paced and self-driven. Online learners must be self-motivated to stay on track. Professors won’t be there to watch your every move and push you. Online faculty won’t be checking in to make sure you’re not sleeping through lectures or skipping readings. In effect, you’re completely responsible for learning the material on your own. Don’t expect personal reminders to do assignments on time. Some students can struggle with this lack of class structure and discipline. Individuals prone to procrastinating can easily fall behind. Time management skills are crucial to pass online courses. Perhaps that’s partly why the U.S. News & World Report found online course completion rates are 5 percent lower. Overall online graduation rates are only near 35 percent.
5. Fewer Financial Aid Options
As previously noted, online programs are generally cheaper than on-campus ones. That said, online schools certainly aren’t free. Students still need to foot the tuition bill for their online learning. Affording online tuition can be challenging with limited financial aid options. Accredited online colleges can qualify for federal and state assistance. Those lacking regional accreditation won’t participate in the FAFSA application process. Federal programs, such as the Pell Grant and SEOG Grant, might be out of reach if you don’t meet low-income guidelines. State programs can be blocked for online students selecting out-of-state colleges. Some universities also reserve their scholarships only for traditional in-person students. Web-based learners need to research adequate resources to cover their tuition on their own. There’s a strong chance you’ll be stuck with mountains of student loan debt and high interest otherwise.
6. Poor Reputation in Some Fields
According to CNN, 83 percent of employers agree that online degrees are credible and legitimate. Most hiring managers today will accept an online education as being valid training. Please place emphasis on “most” though. Online students still face a negative stigma sometimes. Interviewers might question why you chose to study online. They may second guess your ability to communicate and collaborate with others. Others could simply have the wrong impression that online courses are easier and not sufficient. Bias against online education is especially strong in certain hands-on fields, such as health care, teaching, and engineering. Even online business majors are looked down upon at times. Keep in mind that studying online could make your job search longer and more competitive.
7. Difficulty Transferring Credits
Transferring credits from online College A to traditional College B can still be hard today. Some brick-and-mortar universities are prejudiced against online credits even from accredited schools. They might argue online courses lack the necessary rigor. Unaccredited online credits likely won’t count anywhere and will be lost when transferring. If you’re planning to continue education elsewhere, check transfer policies first. Make certain that the online course curriculum will match at your desired transfer school. Generally, course content has to overlap at least 80 percent to transfer. Credits that don’t correspond to future degree requirements will be wasted. As many as three-fourths of transfer students lose credits this way! You can conveniently evaluate transfer credits on most colleges’ websites though. You might also find helpful transfer articulation agreements that guarantee credit acceptance.
8. Frequent Classroom Distractions
When studying on-campus, you’re sitting in a closed classroom for at least 90 minutes. The only likely distractions include peers chatting, phones chirping, and pens clicking. Professors take command to keep the in-person class as focused as possible. On the flip side, online classes don’t provide this buffer from distraction. Online students log into classes at home or the office, so the potential distractions are limitless. Students may be interrupted by coworkers calling, doorbells ringing, and even their kids screaming. You might abandon your course reading to fold laundry, take the dog for a walk, or change diapers. Your mind can also wander as you switch tabs to social media pages or turn on the TV. Online schools require you to stay disciplined and block out any distractions that’ll steal your focus.
9. Threat of Online Diploma Mills
Thousands of online students fall prey to illegitimate diploma mills each year. Diploma mills are fake online schools that award degrees for high prices and very little actual coursework. These predatory colleges defraud hard-working people trying to advance their career. Business Insider counts over 350 diploma mills selling degrees accredited by fictional agencies. Some notorious examples include Tri-Valley University, Ashwood University, and the University of Farmington. Diploma mills often have similar names to real institutions to fool and trap you. To avoid them, always check online colleges in the Council on Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) database. Evade online schools promising fast degrees for your credit card digits. Steer clear of online colleges that lack a mailing address and Better Business Bureau approval. Remaining vigilant can help you cross off this disadvantage of online schools.
10. Test Proctoring Requirements
Online courses are typically non-proctored. In other words, the online tests aren’t supervised. Students therefore have the ability to reference textbooks and their notes to find answers. Some critics argue these open-book tests don’t really assess learning. That’s why online colleges are increasingly adding test proctoring requirements. Proctors check that the right person is taking the exam without cheating. Some online schools use services like ProctorU to watch over test-takers. Others require online students travel to campus to get proctored. Online learners can also go through the process of finding private proctors on their own. Proctors, including librarians, faculty, testing center staff, and military officers, must then get approved. Online students may feel this extra step is too complicated.
Overall, the benefits and pitfalls of earning a college degree online are numerous. Attending online colleges is excellent for many but disadvantageous for some. Online studies are flexible, inexpensive, diverse, welcoming, engaged, and accepted by most employers. Yet, online courses don’t provide the structure, personalized support, financial aid, and social experience some people seek. Whether online programs are right for you is an extremely individual choice. If you prefer distance learning, do your homework to locate the best programs. Accreditation is crucial to ensure top-notch teaching. The U.S. Department of Education website makes finding accreditation information a breeze. Test-drive an online course to judge whether the platform and support tools are sufficient for you. Ask school officials about available resources, such as career services, tutoring, scholarships, and tech software. Doing so allows you to learn the pros and cons of online school options to then form your decision.
Other Rankings of Interest:
The 50 Most Affordable Colleges with the Best Return
25 Cheapest Online Schools for Out-of-State Students (Master’s)
10 Most Affordable Online Colleges in Pennsylvania
10 Most Affordable Online Colleges in New York
10 Most Affordable Online Colleges in California
10 Most Affordable Online Colleges in Florida
10 Most Affordable Online Colleges in Texas
The 20 Most Affordable Online Colleges
25 Cheapest Online Schools for Out-of-State Students (Bachelor’s)
40 Best Affordable Accelerated 4+1 Bachelor’s to Master’s Degree Programs