Going to School Online
Traditional College vs. Online Degree Programs
The first question that normally comes up, is how valuable is an online degree compared to a normal brick and mortar college campus degree? The answer to that, lies in the progress of technology. As web based services gain traction, and improve, it becomes much easier for colleges to branch out and create online programs. This is beneficial to students, as it may open up schools that you could not otherwise go to, due to travel distance and scheduling. Also, as they become more popular, the stigma of online schools becomes less and less, meaning it won't look bad on a resume or job application.
This guide is meant to give a basic snapshot of the reasons why a degree online can be a worthy pursuit, especially for an adult learner who does not think they have time to go back to school to further their education.
What is the Best Online School or College?
Online degree programs fall into two major categories. There are schools that are created for online programs, such as University of Phoenix. The other group, are regular colleges that have expanded to offer an online program selection.
Online only colleges have had a lot of ups and downs. These are typically for-profit and aim their marketing towards military members, working adults, and other people that would normally not be able to attend regular college, or have passed the typical age range of college students. Some of the negatives of these schools is that they can fall into aggressive sales tactics to keep their students. At one point, University of Phoenix was banned from recruiting at military events due to their tactics, as well as the lack of quality for their degrees. A degree can still be useful this way, if your competition does not have higher education.
Traditional schools that offer online study do have a nice fringe benefit: the degree does not specify that it was online, so it is by all appearances the same degree as if you had gone to the school for class. This is also improved in the sense that you can have the same teachers covering the same material as the on campus classes. It sounds a lot better on your record to have a state university than a purely online school as well. The down side to these schools, is they often only offer a small selection of their degree plans online.
Financial Aid Benefits for Online Education
Fortunately for students, the benefits that you can use for online school are the same as regular schools. You should not see a significant difference in available resources.
Yellow ribbon schools being used as part of Veteran's Administration benefits still allow for housing allowance (BAH), even if you are fully online school. The other requirements still apply, such as full time, and the amount is rated on the area where you actually live.
Online programs offer counselors and advisers that can help you navigate the endless options for school benefits. Contact them early, and contact them as often as needed! They are there to work for you. You should contact your adviser at least once per semester just to make sure you are on the right track, and not missing any prerequisite classes that may not show up in the degree requirements.
Flexibility of Online School
Normally, you have a class schedule, and you go to those classes at the designated time on certain days of the week. Online school is less structured, and often gives you the full week assignment all at once. This leaves it up to the student to schedule how they attack the work load.
Classic college age students may struggle with this lack of structure, because they are used to certain expectations from school. It is easy to slack off and then get behind. This can be frustrating, because strict deadlines without the check in points typically provided by classroom time can easily get away from students.
Older students, who have either had some college, or have been in the work force have an easier time scheduling, because they have more experience with chaotic timelines and unexpected interruptions.
When managed well, the less strict schedules are easy to maintain. A key to this is, do the work as soon as possible. Then you know for sure you are caught up until the next week when new assignments are posted.
Having the freedom to work on course material any time throughout the day has another bonus, you can work a full time job at the same time if you wish. This could lead you to having 4 years in the field when your peers are only just starting to job hunt. It could be a great head start for your career.
Human Interaction is Still Important
One criticism of online school is the lack of human participation and face to face conversations. There is no arguing that this is important, but it is also not completely neglected. There are several ways that programs include some element of social aspects.
Most courses include discussion boards, where part of your grade is to post answers to a prompt, as well as respond to several of your classmates answers. This is not a replacement for a real conversation, but it does inspire some discussion and is better than having no alternative.
Some courses include video lectures instead of only assigned reading. These have a few benefits, such as getting you familiar with your teacher, who you may otherwise never see. They are also easier to understand, because you can pause, rewind, and replay subjects you have not completely understood without asking questions. You are still able to contact the professor with questions for further explanation if needed, but it does have the drawback that unlike normal classrooms, you will not hear the questions of your clasmates.
Basic Computer Skills are Essential
Most people entering college do have some experience with computers, but relying solely on online education takes it to a new level. Computer issues that put you offline for too long, can lead to incomplete assignments or interrupted tests. It is critical that you have basic skills to solve computer problems, or at the very least are able to get help through a friend or relative, or to use internet searches such as Google to find answers to your tech problems.
Common issues can be installing software that is used to "lock down" your computer for tests, or general internet connectivity problems. The lock down software essentially just stops you from using search engines to find test answers while the test is open.
The amount of skill required is not incredibly detailed, but you have to be comfortable handling problems when time is not a luxury.
Wall Street Journal - Benefits of Online Learning
Do you feel an online degree is as valuable as a regular degree?
A College Degree Lasts a Lifetime
A final note about education, your degree never expires! When it gets hard, remember that once you have it, it is there forever. This can greatly increase your lifetime earnings, as well as help you get into a field where you truly enjoy going to work.
College is worth the effort, but plan wisely so you can achieve it in the best way that fits your style and schedule!