Should I Attend an Online University?

Online universities are not for everyone. They have certain advantages and disadvantages in comparison to more traditional colleges and universities where you attend classes on campus. Like any important decision, you should weigh the pros and cons of attending an online university before deciding if it's right for you, both economically and personally.

Pros of Attending School Online

Every year, web-based education is growing in popularity. In the fall of 2007, about 3.9 million students took at least one class online. But is an online education worth your time and money?

There are definite benefits to attending school online. For instance, online universities offer greater convenience than their physical counterparts. Classes can be taken at whatever time works for your schedule. This flexibility makes it easier to get an education while still working a full-time job. It also allows you to go back to school even if you're living abroad or far away from a traditional college or university.

Some students may find online courses to be more personal and interactive than courses taken in a large classroom setting. A recent study conducted for the United States Department of Education found that students in online classes performed better than students in face-to-face, on-campus classes. However, online classes require different skills than traditional community college or university courses. The successful completion of an online class requires, at the very least, a high degree of self-motivation, a quiet place to work, a reliable Internet connection, and basic computer skills.

Cons of Attending School Online

For some people, the negative aspects associated with online universities overrule the positive aspects. For example, online universities continue to suffer from poor reputations.

Employers are slowly beginning to accept online degrees. According to a study conducted by one education market research company, about half of 500 companies surveyed deemed online education as "equally valuable" as traditional, in-person learning. There are, however, certain online degrees that are much less respected by employers. If you earn an online degree in any major area of study that usually requires hands-on lab time, like engineering or the physical sciences, your degree will most likely be seen as insufficient in the job market.

Additionally, a web-based education is most valuable when it adds to skills you already posses. Your work experience, combined with an online bachelor's or professional degree, will help you get the job you want. But if you don't have work experience to augment your online degree, then employers will most likely choose someone with a traditional degree.

Another consideration is that online for-profit universities are not cheap. In terms of cost, they fall roughly between the cost of attending a public university (paying in state tuition) and attending a private non-profit university. On average, a public university costs about $6,000 per year; a for-profit online university will cost about $14,000; and a private non-profit university costs around $23,000.

However, the price of an online education can be mitigated in several ways. If you are attending an accredited online university, you can apply for federal financial aid. Some employers also have tuition reimbursement programs that might cover an online degree program if it pertains to your job. Additionally, you can attend online classes while still working and you can save money on hidden costs, such as transportation and books. A web-based education will work best for people who, for whatever reason, cannot put their life on hold and go back to school. Just keep this in mind: online classes will require about 20 hours of work each week. Getting an education is a serious commitment and requires a high degree of self-discipline.

Other Online Options

As you consider enrolling in classes at an online university, remember this: there are other options that might better fit your educational and personal needs. First of all, there are many public universities that offer complete degrees online. In fact, about 40 percent of public universities offer online degrees in business, the liberal arts, social sciences, science, education, and healthcare. Also, many colleges offer hybrid classes, where the majority of class work is conducted online with the occasional face-to-face class.

If you apply to a public university, you will need to be accepted. Online universities, on the other hand, are less selective and will accept nearly anyone who possesses a high school diploma into an undergraduate program. No matter what, it's essential that you try to find the educational experience that works best for you.

Article Resources:

"Study Finds That Online Education Beats the Classroom," The New York Times, Aug. 19, 2009
"Staying the Course: Online Education in the United States, 2008," The Sloan Consortium
"Degrees of Acceptance," The New York Times, July 30, 2006
Digest of Education Statistics
U.S. Department of Education Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs
"Online Colleges Receive a Boost From Congress," The New York Times, March 1, 2006
"The Homework to Do Before Enrolling Online," The New York Times, June 15, 2008
"Classroom of the Future is Virtually Anywhere," The New York Times, Oct. 31, 2007
The Adult Learner: An Eduventures Perspective
University of Phoenix Admissions
Kaplan University Admissions
University of Washington Online Learning