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By Crystal Ladwig

Is an online degree right for you

With the rising costs of a college education and the greater need for a college degree, many potential college students are seeking alternative ways to meet their educational needs. For many, online education has begun to look more attractive. Before committing to online learning, it is helpful to ask yourself a question: Is an online degree the right thing for you?

Flexibility, cost, comfort

Online degrees offer a greater level of flexibility for students who need to work full-time and may not be able to attend a traditional college program. With the myriad universities now offering online degrees, there is also greater flexibility in seeking an online degree program that meets your scheduling needs including when in the year classes start and how many classes you may take at one time.

Many online programs offer programs at a lower cost than their traditional college counterparts do. Additionally, some fees, such as room and board or program fees, are not generally charged to online students.

Some students prefer to learn independently in the comfort of their own home. Other students may not feel comfortable participating in large, traditional classrooms or may even have to travel long distances to get to a traditional college or university. Online classes allow you to learn whenever and where ever you feel most comfortable.

Social life, work, technology

But getting your degree online is not all peaches and roses. If you are a very social person or enjoy learning in groups, you may find the lack of one-on-one social interactions in an online education setting limiting. It takes a lot of effort to create a real dialogue online in the same fashion that you might naturally do when taking a traditional course. For some students, this can lead to a sense of isolation.

Many online programs require more time and work to complete than traditional classes. You may spend three hours a week attending an on-campus course and reading a textbook. But an online course will include the same reading, plus additional time online reading instructional modules, reading the professor's and other students' comments, and responding to them as appropriate.

In order to fulfill these requirements, online learning requires you to have easy access to a computer and consistent internet access. If you lose access or your computer crashes, then you will likely fall behind. Additionally, there will be times when the online learning platform is also down or experiencing updates. If you have put off doing your work until the last minute, these issues can result in you not being able to turn in an assignment or only being able to turn it in late.

Discipline, time management, participation

A few factors in online learning are hard to anticipate until you have actually tried it. For instance, online learning takes a lot of initiative and self-discipline on the part of the students. Professors cannot directly observe if you are struggling to understand a particular concept. It is up to the online student to read required material (both in textbooks and online), participate in online discussions, virtually attend classes (if necessary) and communicate to the professor when they are having a problem.

Because you can procrastinate in completing work, it is easy for students who lack good time-management skills to fall behind in online courses. And once you fall behind in an online course, it is very difficult to catch up.

In many traditional classrooms, a few students tend to dominate the discussions. Online courses require that every student participate. That means that you cannot simply sit back, listen to everyone else and do fine on a test. Ongoing, thoughtful participation is a key component for grades in online courses.

Is online learning right for me?

Only you can answer that question. Consider the demands of the course and your existing commitments, the character traits required for online success, and your motivation and abilities. For many students, online learning has opened doors that otherwise would have remained closed.

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