Online College Pros and Cons: Do The Advantages Of Online Education Offset The Challenges?
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Pros and Cons of Online College

by Justin Boyle

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With so many people these days choosing to attend college online rather than shell out for a campus-based degree, it helps to have a clear understanding of the drawbacks and advantages of online education. Let's take a look at some common upsides and downsides of earning your degree online, so you can better decide for yourself if the virtual classroom is right for you.

Advantages of online classes

  1. Online education is less expensive. In most cases, students earning online degrees pay less overall for their education than those studying at traditional universities. Even if the difference in tuition between traditional and online schools isn't always huge, online course materials are often a more affordable option than textbooks.
  2. Scheduling online classes is easier. Students at traditional universities worry about finding a spot in a class they need or preventing schedule conflicts between class meeting times. Online students can attend classes whenever they have the time, and online courses typically have very high-capacity admission rates (if any at all).
  3. Online colleges offer expanded access. Students who live in rural areas or lack the appropriate transportation to get to a brick-and-mortar campus can attend college online in a part- or full-time capacity without worrying about travel time.
  4. Online classes help you focus on the material. College campuses are chock-full of extracurricular activities that seem to be designed to distract you from the textbooks you spent so much money to read. Online courses remove a lot of the "college experience" from college, making it easier to concentrate on your studies and graduate with high marks.

There are other cited advantages of online degrees, such as the low-intensity style of interaction with professors or the ability to take more classes per semester than are typically available. Not all advantages or disadvantages of online classes are universal -- you might appreciate something about online school that other people see as a downside.

Disadvantages of online education

  1. You provide your own motivation. Online course work is perfect for people who can motivate themselves to get things done, but those who need external forces to keep them on track might have trouble. Self-starters and self-supervisors can do very well in online classes.
  2. Some computer skill is necessary. Not everyone is a natural wizard with computers, but there are no online degrees that don't require computer use. Online education software and tools are usually pretty easy to understand, but they may take some getting used to.
  3. Some high-powered degrees might be less valuable online. Hiring managers from many top-tier business and financial firms don't yet see an online MBA as equivalent to a traditional degree. Research shows that advancement within your existing company can often be equally facilitated by either a traditional or online degree, however.
  4. You have to work to make professional connections. The same environment that protects you from distractions will also make it more difficult for you to engage in the professional networking environment that college can provide. Online students should try to interface with professional organizations or join extracurricular discussion groups to help build their network.

These ups and downs aren't the only ones, of course -- there are more pros and cons of online education than could reasonably be listed in just one article.

Use this list as a starting point and engage yourself in some independent research. That's what online students are good at, after all.


"The Downside and Upside of an Online MBA," Business, Career Advice, Beecher Tuttle, March 21, 2012

"Ten Disadvantages of Online Courses," Online Student Success Center, July 27, 2006 

"Pros and Cons of Online Colleges," Ryan May

"Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking Classes Online," Online Degree Advice, Amy Brantley

About Author

Justin Boyle is a freelance writer and journalist in Austin, Texas.