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Planning To Earn An Online College Degree? Maybe You Shouldn't

Jan 29, 2008
If you've decided to return to college, whether to get a bachelor's degree or a graduate degree, you've almost certainly considered studying online. Every web site is full of ads for Capella, or the University of Liverpool, or the University of Phoenix, while newspaper articles sing the virtues of distance learning as a solution for busy management candidates.

There are some advantages to studying online, but the truth is that there is also significant downside. Before you leap on your computer and make a long term commitment to an online university, you should consider some of these problems.

- That degree's not worth the pixels it's printed on

There are some prestigious and well-established colleges that offer online degrees. If your degree is from one of these schools you can be confident that employers and graduate schools will accept it without question. The problems arise however, if you choose a school that isn't so well known.

At the very bottom of the barrel you'll find colleges that are simply businesses; they're unaccredited "degree mills" that will be glad to sell you a diploma as long as you're willing to pay for it. These obviously are worth neither your time nor your money.

But even some more legitimate schools, where you will be required to complete course work, remain unaccredited. It's highly recommended that you avoid these schools, since your hard work and tuition fees may not be recognized by graduate schools, or employers.

- A night in front of the screen doesn't include Jay, Dave and Conan any more

The term "studying online" is two words, not one. Self-evident? Maybe, but a surprising number of people seem to focus on the online aspect of their program, rather than on the studying bit.

Although you won't be leaving the house, heading for a lecture hall, and sitting with a couple of hundred other students, you do still have to attend lectures; you'll simply be watching or listening online. But instead of having a schedule that imposes a certain amount of discipline on you, it's going to be up to you to find the motivation to study; to write papers; to take part in online discussions and yes, to hear lectures.

You need to know whether you have the self-discipline to turn off the TV; to say no to friends who call you for a night on the town; or even to leave the dishes piled up in the kitchen. All of these things can seem very attractive when you've got a paper due (even the dishes) but if you plan to earn that degree, you've got to write that paper.

- A fraternity with only one member doesn't throw very good parties

One of the nicest things about attending a traditional college is the chance it gives you to meet new and interesting people. What a wonderful way to spend a spring afternoon; sprawled out under a tree in the center of a park-like campus, surrounded by other eager students, discussing the meaning of life. And in the evening, strolling down to the Alpha Delta Phi house to share a laugh with your buddies. Doesn't it sound great?

Well, think again. If you choose to get your degree online, you're going to spend the bulk of your college career staring at a computer screen, not at the cute freshman across the room. To the extent that there's any socializing it's likely to be over email and an online forum, not over pizza and a beer.

Before you begin an online degree, it's important that you know whether or not it will be the best environment for you. Are you sufficiently self-motivated to succeed without the structure of a formal schedule? Will you feel deprived by missing out on the social aspects of a college education?
About the Author
Despite the convenience, and the wide range of choices available online, many students will be much happier studying in a traditional college setting. Deciding to earn an online college degree is not for everyone; only you can know if it's right for you.
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