Posted May 08, 2015 by

Why You May Want to Consider Earning Your Degree Online: Personal Perspective of a Doctoral Candidate

Deborah Anderson photo

Deborah Anderson

Years ago, when you stated that you were going to earn a degree online, it was not surprising to have someone respond with a question of whether or not the degree is legitimate. Or, worse yet, were you “purchasing” the degree (which obviously isn’t a degree at all).

Nowadays, it is not unusual to have online opportunities to earn a degree, from the Bachelors, to Graduate School with the Masters and even the Doctorate. There are respectable schools from the known-for-online, like University of Phoenix and Capella University, to the brick-and-mortar schools. Yes, even the state universities have arrived and have opportunities for people to go to school “online.”

This is no longer just something that is for college students only, but there are high school programs that are the best of both worlds as far as a sort of customized homeschool program and public education. Most notably, these online schools come under the classification of charter schools. Their academics are nothing to sneeze at, as far as quality. The high school graduates are obtaining the same skill level as their public school counterparts. In some cases, they are even excelling further, with all of the knowledge that they must acquire in the computer skills department. Also, there are opportunities for these high school students to start on their college credits before they graduate from high school.

So, what are the pros and cons of online education? I may personally be a bit biased, as I have attended Capella University and have nothing but good things to say about Capella. Oh, it is true, there is no such thing as perfection and you are going to find professors you like more than your own co-workers and some that you are just fine leaving behind when you graduate.

When analyzing the pros (and cons) of an online university, there are additional aspects to consider. This article will primarily look at the pros, but I will mention some common items that would be considered cons, in each section, to balance the perspective. In the end, you are provided with some information for you to make your own informed decision on whether or not an online education is right for you.

Accessibility

Accessibility is probably one of the first things that people think of as an advantage that an online school offers. The accessibility means that you can go to school anytime you like and you can go to school in your pajamas or whatever you want to wear (or not wear). This is definitely a convenience and can be very appealing to those who do not want to get up early to go to class, or do not want to have to deal with weather or transportation issues, let alone schedules.

The downside to this is that for those who are not as disciplined, the homework requirements may be more of a challenge. For example, the tasks are on our honor. You are required to participate to the same level that you would by attending a class traditional school environment. The advantage that “going to class” has is that you are already there and can just participate and get your “points” for that participation. In the case of an online experience, that participation becomes a task and it is your responsibility to complete that task, in the same way as you would an assignment task.

In my personal experience, the participation has been more planned and more intentional and I have actually received what I would consider a more rewarding experience as a result of that participation. This is because of the level of intentional effort. However, as with all things, it is a matter of what you put into it and what you get out of it as a result, so with the right amount of effort, you could get the same out of a classroom experience, as well.

Life’s Experiences Interwoven Into the Education

Using Capella as an example, all students must be at least 25 years old to attend (or at least that was the case at the time that I enrolled). The reasoning behind that was that they wanted the students to have a commonality as far as work experience. Realizing that not everyone has the exact same work experience, the goal was that there would be “some” work experience versus straight out of high school.

The thinking behind that premise was that the students were not able to quit their day job to attend school. Instead, they were fitting the education in with their career. As a result, a community is built. It is a community of students that understood the challenges that accompany a full time career, attending college (or graduate school) and sometimes even raising a family, all balanced together.

From my experience, this community has helped students to have a deeper understanding and an opportunity to apply their education, immediately, in their own work environment and also through the experiences of their fellow students. It provides the students with insight into different job roles, different sectors, different companies, and exposure to things that would not be there (or more limited) in a brick-and-mortar school. This causes very enriching conversation and discussion. It also allows for networking opportunities.

The downside is that there is nothing quite like a campus experience straight out of high school and living in a dorm (or even living in the community and hanging out with friends at college). This experience is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and isn’t something that can be experienced the same way after a job and family are added to the mix. My recommendation is to go for that campus experience if you can. It is also a great way to network and build connections for your future career. You could possibly pursue the online avenue for the next degree. Does that contradict what I have been saying? No. It is simply the recognition of being in a different place at different points in our lives and realizing the opportunities that exist at each step and stage of life.

Unique Resources

The unique resources advantage is not necessarily an advantage over the brick-and-mortar school, as there are likely resources available there, as well. It is more of a case of different resources. For example, many times the opportunities that exist for online learners relate to opportunities for things like free courses and discounted software (like Capella extending an offer for Microsoft software for $5 a few years ago!). Additionally, there are select colleges that offer laptops, bridging the accessibility challenges that are inherent with students taking online courses. Other institutions offer helpful online libraries that are available from within the school’s student dashboard.

That last resource, access to the school library, is like gold, with an access to 15+ libraries of journal articles available for viewing online. This means that I don’t have to carry a heavy book or books around with me and I can read journal articles on my laptop, my tablet, or my iPhone. The library even provides the opportunity to access the ready-made APA formatted citation for my papers (you students KNOW about that, don’t you!).

Some of these libraries are already available to people online, like Sage Publications. However, some also cost money and are often times free to students of online schools (and possible traditional schools, as well). Also, the convenience, at least in the case of Capella, is that many different databases (libraries) may be searched all at once, rather than bookmarking the sites and visiting them separately. Again, it is possible that this is a perk for a traditional college, as well, so it is something you would definitely have to double check, at the school level.

There are other resources that are available to online students and traditional students, like “Amazon Student” (amazon prime for students), academic software, and networking opportunities on LinkedIn and other social networks (often linked through the school’s web site). There may be different opportunities depending on the school chosen.

Summary

The choice comes down to what suits you. If you need the accountability that a traditional school provides, then maybe the online school is not the best option, or maybe it simply isn’t the best option for you now.

Another thing to consider is your rate of comprehension. If you are the type that knows what your professor is going to say in the 45 minute lecture after 3 minutes and you are bored silly for the remainder of the lecture, then maybe the online graduate school is the best option. That is the way it was for me and Capella has allowed me to learn at my own pace, which tends to be a fast pace. This is very appealing.

Just remember that one option (just like one particular school) is not necessarily better than another, but it is a matter of finding the fit that is best for you, at this time in your life. It is a matter of balancing the pros and cons, for YOU, when assessing all of the different factors of your decision. Fortunately, “online” is an option and speaking from experience, a very enriching option for you as the student.

By Deborah Anderson
http://www.Tech-Audit.com
@techauditcom and @socialwebcafe

About the author:

Deborah Anderson has traveled many paths, from Chief Technology Officer in the Financial Industry (Beverly Hills), to #1 Jazz singer, to host of an iHeart Radio marketing talk show. She is a doctoral candidate, (I/O Psychology) who also teaches businesses how to apply effective strategies to achieve successful outcomes.

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