Online College vs. Traditional College: How Do They Compare?

For most people, online universities are a mystery. What quality of education do they provide? Is an online degree just as valuable as one from a traditional, brick-and-mortar school? How do you know if online learning is right for you?

Here is a quick guide to how online universities compare to traditional colleges.

Traditional Colleges

Most people are familiar with the traditional classroom setting of a college or university. Students meet at set times and interact directly with teachers and classmates to complete projects and assignments. The traditional college classroom also creates a structured learning experience for students uncomfortable working alone.

Here are some other aspects unique to traditional colleges:

  • Commute to and from campus
  • Direct contact with instructors and classmates for immediate feedback
  • Textbooks and supplemental materials must be purchased
  • Larger class sizes means limited one-on-one interaction with instructors
  • Class performance partially based on student participation, usually verbal
  • Need to network with other classmates to get notes if you miss a class

Online Colleges

While some online colleges try to simulate traditional learning through “virtual classrooms”, most allow students to customize their own work and study schedules. But because there are no instructors in front of the students to keep them on task, online education also requires self-motivation and self-discipline.

Here are some other aspects unique to online colleges:

  • Written response to assignments and classes helps less outgoing students participate
  • No commute to campus
  • Interact with classmates around the country
  • No set class schedule
  • Lower tuition fees
  • No textbooks needed

Quality of Education

Online schools have changed a lot since they first came on the scene in the 1990s. Back then, programs were new, online technology was limited, and instructors had trouble adapting to the teaching methods required for online learning.

Today, more than 60% of colleges and universities including Harvard, Duke University and Pennsylvania State University offer online degrees. And with the demand for distance learning growing, top online colleges will continue to expand and improve their programs.

Here are some factors to consider when choosing an online university:

  • How much experience do the instructors have teaching online?
  • What training and credentials do the online instructors have?
  • How does the online curriculum compare with what is taught on campus?
  • Are there prerequisites or entrance requirements for the online degree program?
  • Does the online college offer a degree recognized by your profession?

Validity of Online Degrees

With more and more universities offering high-quality online degree programs, online degrees are becoming more recognized and accepted by a wide range of professions. The rise of “degree mills”, however, makes many employers cautious. Your best bet is to choose an online degree program from a well-respected traditional college or university.

Here are some common industries that recognize and accept degrees from online schools:

  • Internet/New Media
  • Technology
  • High Tech
  • Marketing/Media

Accreditation

With many less-than-reputable online degree programs out there, it’s important to find an online college that is accredited. There’s nothing worse than giving away your money to a degree mill and finding out that your degree is worthless. Choosing an online university that is accredited will also allow you to transfer your credits to other schools if you want to continue your education elsewhere.

To learn more about getting your degree online, read: How Credible is an Online Degree in Today’s Job Market? and Tools & Tips for Education Online.