Choosing Between On-Campus and Online Degrees

General Education

On-Campus vs. Online Degrees: How Do You Choose?

Not so long ago, a college degree meant having to attend classes, in person, month after month, semester after semester. Thanks to distance education, which has increased in popularity during the last decade, students have the option to obtain college degrees online. In general, distance education means that the instructor and the students are in physically different locations. Yes, that means that you can work on your college degree from your couch while wearing Snoopy pajamas--as long as you can get online. According to data from the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2006-07 school year, there were approximately 11,200 college-level programs that were designed to be completed entirely online. In addition, there are 4,160 degree-granting traditional universities that offer online courses. Figuring out whether a traditional on-campus program, a cutting-edge online degree or a mix of both are right for you requires weighing several factors.

  1. Your physical location. If you live in a remote area without easy access to a college campus, you can still attend online schools as long as you have a high-speed Internet connection. However, if you live in a city, even a small one, chances are that there could be at least one institution of learning in your area often in the form of a community college. If getting to the campus is relatively easy for you, then you might opt to study on-campus.
  2. Your schedule. If you are working full-time, then your schedule might not allow you to attend a traditional university. However, many private, for-profit universities cater exclusively to the needs of busy working adults and offer convenient evening classes. Public universities and community colleges are following suit and offer evening classes as well. If that still doesn't work with your schedule, then a fully online learning model might be your best bet. If you are a night owl, and a social one at that, then consider attending some of the on-campus universities that offer classes at midnight. Yes, midnight.
  3. Your ability to study and learn independently. If you attend on-campus programs, there will be some pressure to show up for class, to turn in homework and to participate in group assignments. Ask yourself if you need a professor to keep you on target with your work. If you are highly self-motivated and disciplined, then online programs could be great option. However, if you have a tendency to procrastinate and need someone to push you a bit, then online programs might not be the best choice.
  4. Your interest in immersing yourself in the college experience. Are you looking forward to spending time on campus, going to concerts, lectures, cultural events, rallies, football games and just enjoying the college vibe? You can't get that online. Still, a lot of those activities are open to non-students, so that anyone can enjoy them.
  5. In-person relationships and networking. There's nothing like meeting people in person and spending time with them every week. Interacting exclusively online simply doesn't create the same level of collegiality as sharing a classroom experience. If you like meeting new people and networking for personal or professional reasons, then you might want to choose an on-campus program. Online classes are good for the shy, but many programs have elements of collaboration, so you won't be isolated.
  6. Your degree. Some fields of study are simply better suited for online learning than others. Those that require intense laboratory work (think chemistry or physics) might not be available in an online format at all. That said, you might be able to take some online classes for most majors--even if you are not able to get your entire degree online. Many on-campus universities, mainly public institutions, offer both online and on-campus options, and allow students to mix and match for certain classes.

Hopefully, this information will help make it easier to decide what options are right for you. However, give yourself the chance to be wrong: Perhaps you start out online and then realize it's not for you. That's perfectly fine. Nothing is set in stone and you can always change what you are doing, including the class format, your classes and yes, even your major.