How can I Determine if an Online Degree is Right for Me?

A 2009 study by the Department of Education found that on average, students perform better in online classes than in regular classes. Pressed for time, many students are choosing online degree programs as a way to advance their education and get the training they need right from the comfort of their own home. Especially convenient for people who work full time or who need to stay at home with their kids, online classes offer students a flexible schedule that is just not possible at traditional brick-and-mortar schools.

It is no wonder that one in six students in higher education is now getting their degree online. And with the growing popularity of online classes, colleges and universities are continuing to offer more and more degree options for the online learner. But an online education is not right for everyone. The lack of face-to-face contact with classmates and professors causes some students to struggle to complete their degree. Any student considering an online degree program should first make sure that is the right learning environment for them.

Before enrolling in an online class, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Do I have the motivation and self-discipline to complete an online degree? The idea of completing a degree from the comfort of your own home may sound appealing, but it is not without its challenges. While you may not miss trekking to and from campus, sitting in a classroom or listening to lectures, it can be difficult to motivate yourself without the face-to-face contact of classmates and professors. Students should set aside specific time each week to work on their assignments for an online class to ensure that they finish their degree.
  • Am I comfortable working independently? Although you will be communicating with classmates and professors through e-mail, chat rooms and discussion boards, immediate feedback may not always be available. Students will have to read materials, look over assignment guidelines, and complete tasks on their own and work to resolve any issues (technological or otherwise) that come up along the way. Many students enjoy being able to work at their own pace, but some students find that they prefer the structure of traditional classes.
  • Do I have strong reading and writing skills? There are no in-person lectures or discussions in an online class, so strong reading and writing skills are a must. Students will have to carefully read all lecture notes and course materials to complete their assignments, and they must be able to clearly express their thoughts and ideas through their writing in e-mails, discussion forums and chat rooms. Students should keep in mind that it is especially important that they maintain a professional tone when corresponding with their professors.
  • Do I have access to the necessary technology? It may seem obvious, but any student who is considering an online degree program must have access to a computer and the Internet. Students who do not have a computer at home or at work can use one at the local college or library, but it could be a hassle — they might not always be open when you need to get work done. Students also need an e-mail account that they can use to receive class updates and to correspond with professors.
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Students should keep in mind that any online degree program involves a lot of time on the computer. And while you certainly do not have to be a computer expert to take an online class, students should feel relatively comfortable using a computer, navigating the Internet and accessing an e-mail account. People with very little computer experience may want to reconsider an online degree program.

There are many benefits to an online education. With little more than a computer and an Internet connection, students can complete an online degree at their own pace, wherever and whenever it is most convenient for them. Full-time workers and stay-at-home parents can finally find the time to fit the training they need into their already hectic schedules. But despite its flexibility and convenience, an online education is not right for everyone. The lack of personal contact with classmates and professors does make it difficult for some students to finish their degree. Students should take the time to consider whether they have the skills and resources to pursue an online education and find the best program to meet their needs.