Once you’ve decided to go to graduate school, the next step is to explore your options and choose a program. As you look at all of the different graduate schools out there, it’s likely that you’ll find a wide variety of both online and campus-based schools offering the specific program you’re most interested in.
For some students, completing their graduate school program 100% online offers tremendous advantages, but others might be far more interested in attending a traditional brick and mortar graduate school. It’s important that you identify your own personal learning style and figure out which type of graduate school will be best for you.
To help make your decision, read our summary of the main pros and cons of online vs. campus-based programs:
Online Graduate Programs
Many online graduate programs offer substantially cheaper tuition rates in comparison to their on-campus competitors. The remote learning style of online education reduces many of the major costs faced by brick-and-mortar institutions, so you can expect to find amazingly reasonable tuition rates at some online universities who pass those savings on to their graduate students. If you’re on a tight budget, but are keen to go to graduate school, attending an online program may be in your best financial interest.
Luxury of Studying Anywhere
Studying online gives you the luxury of being able to study absolutely anywhere you have an internet connection. This is great if you’re constantly on the move, such as if you’re in the military or have a job that requires a lot of travel. What’s more, you’ll save a boatload by avoiding the daily commute to class and by saving yourself the costs of relocating to a new city or even state just so you can live close enough to the school you want to attend. The convenience of being able to study wherever you have access to WI-FI has great appeal to a lot of graduate students, and is one of the main reasons why so many sign up for online master’s degrees and PhD programs.
Online graduate programs allow you to study and complete assignments at any time of the day, which is a prime benefit if you have a busy work schedule or if you are a parent or caregiver. This flexibility means that you can study and finish your homework assignments when it’s convenient for you, allowing you to create a schedule on your own terms. What’s more, some online graduate degrees even allow you to study at your own pace, enabling you to complete your program as quickly or as gradually as you want. This is particularly beneficial for people whose future schedules are uncertain, since it offers the freedom of being able to complete your work without the stress of impending deadlines and due dates.
Some students choose an online graduate program because they wish to remain anonymous as they complete their program. Perhaps they are completing their degree because they are hoping to switch careers (and don’t want their current boss to know) or because of their stage in life they would prefer to remain fairly anonymous while they study. Without a doubt, online graduate programs provide a lot of anonymity for their students. Although other students in the program will likely see your name, studying online allows you to focus entirely on the work at hand, without worrying about your reputation, which makes it a very private way to further your education.
Advanced Computer Skills
If your computer skills are a little rusty or just need to be worked on, an online program could help you to refresh and refine them. Nearly all online programs require you to have strong computing skills, and since you will be spending a great deal of time at your computer, it’s likely that simply working through assignments and other daily activities will help increase your mastery of the computer. Acquiring new computer skills or advancing existing ones will set you up for future success, as virtually all jobs for graduate students require advanced knowledge of basic computing practices. Studying online is likely to make you feel more confident with computer technology in general.
Working Full Time
If you are a parent, a primary caregiver or if you have a full-time job, the idea of going back to graduate school may seem unrealistic, even impossible considering your situation. However, the flexibility provided by online graduate programs enables many to hold down a full-time job as they study, with some even able to continue serving as the primary caregiver for their family while simultaneously pulling in a full time income and getting their graduate degree. Unlike brick and mortar programs, studying online provides the flexibility of being able to take classes and study any time that suits you, allowing you to fit your education around your existing schedule rather than being forced to let it take over your entire life.
You May Feel Socially Isolated
Although there will be opportunities for you to interact online with your peers, you ultimately won’t get the same social experience as you would if you studied at a brick-and-mortar school. If socialization is very important for you and something you really hope to get out of graduate school, then you may find an online graduate program to be a bit isolating or even lonely. However, if you already have a good circle of friends and are simply using your graduate program as a vehicle to further your skills and knowledge, then the lack of socialization shouldn’t be too much of a problem for you.
You Must Be An Independent Learner
To succeed in an online graduate program, it’s essential that you are an independent person. Although your instructor will be there to answer your question via email or in some cases by phone, you won’t get the same kind of one-on-one attention or guidance that you’d find with an on campus program. If you’re a natural independent learner and pick up on new concepts easily, then learning online should come naturally to you. However, if you struggle with incorporating new information, understanding unfamiliar concepts and figuring things out for yourself, then you might find learning online a struggle. This goes the same for organization, as it’s important that you are very well organized and have the self-discipline to organize your online learning schedule.
Without good self-discipline, it will be extremely difficult for you to find success in an online graduate program. Ultimately, you should only enroll in an online program if you’re a fast learner, have an independent spirit and are self-disciplined enough to get things done on your own.
Networking May Not Be As Effective
If networking and developing important contacts is what you hope to achieve from your graduate program, then you may be disappointed by studying online. The independent nature of online programs means that you won’t get to interact as much with your peers, and you may even only take classes from a single professor throughout the entirety of your program. This could present a problem when it comes time to collect your post-graduation educational references and letters of recommendation. But it depends on what you think you’ll need. Most online programs won’t provide many opportunities for you to network or meet people inside your industry, so if that’s important to you, then be wary of this when you explore your educational options.
You Need Strong Computer Skills
While an online program will enable you to develop new computer skills and advance the ones you already have, you may still need relatively advanced computing skills just to get started with your courses. If you’re completely computer illiterate, it’s fair to say that an online program probably won’t work out for you. Online graduate programs expect you to already know how to format word documents, submit assignments online and participate in online forums. If all of that sounds like a foreign language to you, you’re likely best sticking with a brick and mortar graduate program.
There’s Still Some Stigma
Unfortunately, there is still some negative stigma surrounding online education at both the undergraduate and graduate level. Although most of the major online schools are fully accredited and therefore just as valid as any on campus program, some people still think that online programs are easier than brick and mortar programs. Although this doesn’t count for everyone, and many people do regard online education as genuine and effective, you may come across some negative or at least suspicious feedback regarding your education if you earn your graduate degree online. The best way to combat this to make sure you’re attending a fully accredited online program from a respected institution, and to prepare yourself to handle the questions from skeptics after you’ve graduated.
You’ll Get the Traditional Graduate School Experience
If you’re looking for the traditional graduate school experience, where you get to dedicate your entire time to study and mingling with fellow intellectuals, you’re best bet in finding this is at a brick-and-mortar graduate school. At an on campus graduate program, you’ll get the opportunity to make new friends and even know your professors on a personal basis. Ultimately, in-person programs will allow you to enjoy much more socialization with your academic peers than you would find by studying online. For some graduate students socialization is irrelevant, but for many it’s of major importance to their overall graduate school experience.