Online vs. Traditional Bachelor’s Degree Program: Which Is Right for You?

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The amount of education you receive is strongly correlated with your earning potential — which is why so many people pursue higher education. Intensive research into the effect of education indicates that a bachelor’s degree will increase an individual’s lifetime earnings by more than $655,000 over a mere high school diploma. This is because a college degree provides you with knowledge and skill that qualify you for career tracks that lead to higher and better compensation.

However, once you decide to pursue a bachelor’s degree, you have many questions to answer. Not only do you need to decide what type of degree to pursue — business administration? Psychology? Creative writing? — but you need to make a more fundamental decision about whether you want to enroll in an online degree program or a traditional campus-based college education.

Pros and Cons of Online Degree Programs

Online degree programs have their roots in distance learning programs, which were created in the 18th century but popularized in the 19th and 20th centuries. Distance learning took place through the posted mail: Students would receive packets of learning materials and submit assignments and exams through their mailboxes. However, many distance learning programs were more or less scams, degree mills that provided students with credentials without actually bothering to educate them. Unfortunately, the earliest examples of online education suffered from this same ill-repute.

Fortunately, the stigma around online education has all but disappeared. Today, so many students engage with online education to some degree — a few online credit-hours per semester or an entirely online bachelor’s degree in psychology — that few employers ask about elearning, let alone care. As a result, there are dozens of advantages to enrolling in online education and very few downsides. Some of the strongest of these advantages include:

Flexibility. Most online courses are asynchronous, meaning that lectures and other materials are made available for students to engage with during a specific time frame. This provides students with more flexibility to fit learning into their existing schedules.

Affordability. While online degree programs might have similar per-credit-hour costs as traditional programs, their accessibility lowers their total cost considerably. Students do not need to relocate to campus or near-campus housing; they do not need to commute to and from classrooms; and they can avoid many of the costs of utilizing classrooms, like class fees and physical supplies.

Self-management. Because there is no physical instructor’s presence keeping students accountable, online students gain skills associated with self-motivation and self-management, which are exceedingly valuable in all manner of real-world situations.

The disadvantages to online education are few and apply to some students. For example, some older students may struggle with the technical requirements of online courses, which demand sufficient tech savvy to utilize elearning platforms. Additionally, not every household might have reliable internet service or reasonably updated devices to allow for connection to online school, which means some students may need to take advantage of resources at local libraries. Still, these challenges are relatively weak considering the recognized benefits of online education.

Pros and Cons of Traditional Degree Programs

When one imagines pursuing a college degree, one typically conjures up images of walking around an ivy-covered college campus, sitting in classrooms with enthusiastic professors, conversing with fellow students on the quad and spending free time at parties, school sports events and other social gatherings. These are some of the most notable benefits of the traditional degree program — the shared college experience.

However, for many students, traditional college courses are not a viable way to obtain a degree. The rigidity of the traditional course schedule often precludes full-time or even part-time employment, but the high cost of tuition, room and board necessitate some kind of significant income. Compare this with online education, which allows students to fit their courses amongst existing work and home responsibilities. Even though traditional degree programs can help improve social and public speaking skills as well as other skills that require hands-on practice and supervision, they simply are not as accessible and convenient as their online counterparts.

Increasingly, online education is becoming the default mode of earning a college degree — and for good reasons. Still, using the above pros and cons, you can decide for yourself whether an online or a traditional college experience makes sense for your wants and needs.

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