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Advantages and Disadvantages of Pursuing an Online Degree

According to the Sloan Consortium, nearly 3.2 million students took at least one online course during the fall term in 2005. This figure is especially impressive when you consider that only a little over 1.9 million students were enrolled in an online course in fall of 2003. The Washington Post reports that the trend is expected to continue, with 1 in 10 students choosing to enroll in an online degree program by 2008.
Students are discovering the benefits of an online education every day, with colleges and universities continuing to add online courses and degree options to meet this growing demand. Would an online education be a good fit for you? To find out, you should consider the advantages and disadvantages of online degrees and whether the online format would be a good fit for your personality.

Online Degree Advantages

������� Flexibility of Degree Programs: Many online degree programs allow you to take courses entirely on your own schedule from any location with an Internet connection. Whether you are a soldier serving overseas or the busy parent of a two-year-old, you can find an online program that fits your unique needs.

������� Convenience: You can work on your degree from the comfort of your home or on the road if travel is a part of your current career. If you enrolled in a degree program at a college campus, you would need to worry about commuting to campus. Depending on your location, there might not be a degree program in the subject that interests you at a nearby college or university. Choosing an online program gives you degree options that are not otherwise available.

������� Financial Aid: The U.S. government changed federal financial aid policies in March of 2006, making them more favorable to online degree programs. Previously, colleges had to offer at least half of their courses on-campus to be eligible for federal financial aid. This policy excluded many online colleges and universities. The new law eliminates this requirement.

������� Quality of Education. According to a 2006 survey by the Sloan Consortium, over 60% of academic leaders believe that the learning outcomes for online education are equal or superior to face-to-face education. This percentage has steadily increased over the past three years.

Online Degree Drawbacks

������� Limited programs available: Some degree programs are not offered online, or can be only partially completed online because they require some hands-on training. For example, veterinary technicians need practical experience working with animals. They must find ways to supplement an online education to receive the training they need.

������� Limited face-to-face contact with professors and other students: The convenience of online learning comes at a price–lack of direct contact with your professors and peers. College campuses offer vibrant social and cultural events that you might miss if you undertake an online program. It also can be more difficult to engage in professional networking with fellow students if you do not get to meet them face-to-face. Real-time chat rooms with professors and classmates can help students in online education programs to feel more connected to the academic community.

������� Lack of oral communications opportunities: In an on-campus degree program, you have chances to hone your oral communications skills through presentations, small classes, and extracurricular activities. If your future career involves much interacting with people or public speaking, you may need to seek out opportunities that your online degree cannot provide.

������� Greater flexibility means greater responsibility: Online courses can require a greater commitment on your part. No one looks over your shoulder to make sure that you are not falling behind in your courses. If you tend to procrastinate without hard deadlines to meet, you could find yourself falling behind in an online course.

Synchronous or Asynchronous Courses?

There are two types of online courses–synchronous and asynchronous. Synchronous courses require you to be online at certain predetermined times for chats with your professor and classmates. They can make you feel as though you are part of a community of learners, but they also put restrictions on your schedule. Asynchronous courses offer more flexibility. You do not have a set schedule for your interactions with your professor and classmates. However, you still can communicate with them through message board posts and e-mail.

Would You Enjoy Online Programs?

An online program is not a perfect match for all personalities. The most successful online learners share several common traits. They are well organized and committed to their programs of study. They are adept at scheduling time every day to work on their courses, and they minimize procrastination. Because much online learning is done at home, they must be good at avoiding the distractions at home. Finally, they must not mind the lack of face-to-face interaction. If these traits describe you, you would probably thrive in an online education program. If they do not, you must ask yourself if you can adapt to the challenges and rewards of getting your education online.

Picking a High Quality Program

Some people are wary of online degree programs because they have believe that online “diploma mills” have tainted the image of online education. These programs tendered degrees without requiring students to complete any coursework. While these programs still exist, the overwhelming growth of high quality, legitimate degree programs means that employers now recognize that online degrees are just as academically rigorous and valuable as on-campus degree programs. As greater numbers of well-respected brick-and-mortar institutions move some of their most popular programs online, program reputations should continue to grow.

According to U.S. News and World Report, the most important factor in determining the reputation of an online program is its accreditation status. High quality programs have earned their accreditation from one of the six regional accrediting bodies in the United States. Accredited schools must meet strict academic standards, so employers know that graduates of these schools have excellent training. The U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Postsecondary Education offers a website with a comprehensive list of accredited schools.

Many online degree programs offer a winning mix of convenience, flexibility, and high quality. Whether you are interested in returning to school for your associate’s degree or your doctorate, you should be able to find an accredited online degree program that fits your needs and interests.

Publish date: November 28, 2007