Online college education is very popular, with reputable, bricks-and-mortar colleges and universities offering online courses. All students need is access to a computer and an Internet connection.
Students wishing to study online, whether it's a youngster who has just graduated from high school, someone who wishes to further a career with extra qualifications or a person who wants to swap careers and go in a totally different direction, need to carefully decide if they can study effectively in this way.
Benefits of online studying include:
- Convenience: Online study lets students work from home or a nearby local venue. This means no commuting time or expenses.
- Choice: The student can opt to enroll in a college that's right across the country or even overseas. As more colleges offer online education, the range of courses expands. Students can choose from associate's, bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees in a vast assortment of fields.
- Self-paced: To a certain extent, depending on the courses undertaken, students can progress at their own pace.
- Flexible: It's ideal for individuals who need to continue to participate in income-earning work and those who have family responsibilities. Lectures are generally pre-loaded for viewing at any time, and the only deadlines are when assignments are due or exams are taken.
- Variety of learning media: Lectures may be undertaken via webcams, video streaming or downloads and virtual classrooms. Many colleges have platforms that are usable on PCs, tablets and smartphones.
- Cost: As colleges compete for enrollments, course costs may vary and grants and scholarships may be offered. Much of the course material, particularly for the first and second years of a degree course, is available online at little to no cost, removing the need to purchase expensive text books.
- Personal preferences: For those who prefer to avoid the hustle and bustle of bricks-and-mortar educational facilities due to shyness or disability, online studying can be a boon. Interaction with other students often takes place via forums, so every voice is heard.
- Transfer credits: Many reputable universities are affiliated with massive open online course, or MOOC, organizations and students, for a fee, can transfer credits for courses they've participated in to their regular college. This is handy if students wish to get extra credits or the course they're interested in is not offered by their own college.
Disadvantages of an Online College Education
Studying online requires a lot of self-discipline. There are no lecturers checking attendance registers nor peer pressure to motivate you to study course notes. Distractions may abound in home, social and work environments, and the temptation to put off studying at the end of a long day may be strong.
People who enjoy interaction with others, whether in class or socially on campus, may find the online study experience very lonely. If a student is in a different time zone to the educational facility, it may take 24 hours or more to get a response to queries about course work.
Computers and tech accessories must be up to date to download and access course videos, transcripts or resources. The price of updating and keeping devices compatible with college programs needs to be factored into the cost analysis when deciding if to study online.
Before registering for an online college degree, it's essential potential students check thoroughly that the college offering the course or program is accredited with the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).