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The Pros and Cons of an Online Degree

Updated on February 10, 2013
Photo courtesy of Free Range Photos.
Photo courtesy of Free Range Photos.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, college graduates earn more money and are also less susceptible to unemployment than those who do not attend college. Individuals with an Associate degree earn more than those with a high school diploma. The attainment of a Bachelor’s degree further increases earning potential and lowers the chances of unemployment.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics also states that those with a Master’s degree earn twice as much as those with just a high school diploma, and have an unemployment rate of 2.4 percent vs. over 10 percent for high school graduates. These factors make the attainment of a college degree a very good choice for those with the discipline and desire to pursuit it.

Traditionally, degrees were only available in a campus setting. However, online programs are growing in popularity. There are advantages and disadvantages to online degree programs, and both must be weighed carefully to make the best choice.


Students who choose to pursue an online degree have the advantage of being able to access their lectures at any time via the Internet. This format provides a multitude of options. Not only can these students set their own schedules and determine when they want to view their online classes, but they also have the freedom to choose where they want to view the lectures.

From sitting at the kitchen table in a bathrobe to lying on the grass in a park, the possibilities are endless. As long as the student has Internet access, lectures can be viewed from anywhere.


On the other hand, campus settings provide opportunities to meet and bond with classmates and schoolmates. Students in a campus setting are more likely to develop and function as a team.

Some students frequently eat and study together, and develop support systems that can prove quite valuable for exchanging information regarding assignments and research, while also providing moral support. In addition, the social interaction provided by face-to-face communication contributes to friendships and bonds that may last well beyond the classroom.

Individual Pace

Online students have the convenience of learning at their own pace. They can schedule tests and study at their own tempo, which in especially important for those who may find it difficult to keep up with their classmates. Since students can learn, complete assignments, and study at their own pace, they are not subject to a lecture schedule that may move too quickly – or slowly – for their needs.

Reduced Instructor Access

However, by not being present in the classroom, online students are at a disadvantage regarding access to the instructor, since spontaneous questions cannot be asked while the lecture is being viewed online. In addition, these students cannot speak with the instructor after class or stop by the instructor’s office. Although students can communicate by email or some other established protocol - which may vary from school to school - this is drastically different from the teacher-to-student personal communication that a classroom setting provides.

Financial Aid

Financial aid is available for both online and campus-based programs. Usually, online classes are less expensive.


There is some debate regarding the quality of an online degree compared to a campus-based program. Most online universities declare that an online degree is just as valuable, as long as the school is accredited. In fact, a campus-based program that is not accredited may not be as reputable as an accredited online program.

On the other side of the debate, critics dismiss the validity of pursuing an online degree because some employers do not consider candidates with online degrees to be as knowledgeable as their campus-based peers.

In addition, although many online schools are accredited, none are ranked or considered “leading” universities by trusted sources like the U.S. News and World Report, or the United States National Research Council. Those thinking of investing time and money in an online program should carefully weigh this information since the degree’s value - or return on investment - may be the most important criterion.


In summary, there are both advantages and disadvantages to pursuing an online degree. The major factors are as follows:

· Online students have the convenience of viewing their lectures via the Internet at any time, but they miss the social interaction and teamwork that a campus-setting provides

· Online students can study, view lectures, and take tests at their own pace, but they have very limited access to instructors

· Online students can apply for financial aid, and the cost of an online degree is not as expensive as a campus-based degree

· Online programs are not ranked among the best schools or considered leading universities


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