You’ve made the decision to go back to school; now what? The next big choice is whether you’ll take classes on campus or online, or maybe a combination of both. How do you decide? It’s not as simple as finding out if your alma mater or preferred school offers both. Instead, you need to consider the best fit for you.
Some adults who return to school choose to take online classes for practical reasons. If you work a full-time job and/or have a family or other obligations, the flexibility of taking classes on your computer at home can be appealing. But before you commit to logging on to learn, ask yourself these questions:
Discipline: Will Online Work for Me?
An important first question is really all about discipline. Online learning takes a different kind of discipline than on campus learning does. A common misconception is that online classes are easier. You can do it any time, even while wearing your PJs! How easy is that? But knowing you’re capable of the work and being motivated to commit the time are two very different things. A flexible schedule is great if you’re highly disciplined. If you find the idea of committing non-specific time each week to complete your work daunting, you might be better off attending on-campus classes that require your presence at a specific day and time.
Community: Does It Matter?
Knowing yourself and your personality type is a key to success when it comes to deciding about online or on campus learning. Are you an ‘in person’ kind of learner, or is that not an issue for you? Do you have a strong need to connect with others? Some online classes offer a sense of community and a great deal of interaction with the instructor through discussions, email, even phone calls. But not all programs or instructors offer that level of interaction. Find out before you enroll. While students attending undergraduate school often thrive on the sense of community that exists on campus, a working adult returning to school may not have that same need and may instead appreciate the focus on the work that online classes provide.
Are You Up-To-Date on Technology?
Technology today changes at the speed of light. Don’t underestimate the need to be comfortable with the new tools required for some online classes. You don’t have to be a technology guru to do well with e-learning, but you do need to feel comfortable navigating new websites and participating in online communities such as discussion boards, etc. Many schools offer an assessment to help you determine your skill level with the relevant technology. If they don’t, ask what’s involved and ask yourself honestly whether or not it’s a fit for you.
Costs and Accreditation
Other factors you’ll want to consider are cost and accreditation. Some online programs are less expensive than their on-campus counterparts, but not always. Find out whether there’s a difference for in-state and out-of-state programs. You may find a program with the best curriculum for your field is in another state, but that that their tuition rate for online courses is the same for everyone.
The issue of accreditation can be confusing. According to the Commission on Secondary Schools, accreditation is, “the affirmation that a school provides a quality of education that the community has a right to expect and the education world endorses. Accreditation is a means of showing confidence in a school’s performance.” A university should have information on their website about their accreditation, but if you’re at all unsure, ask for more details about who provided the accreditation.
The bottom line? The choice you make should be one that fits your learning style, lifestyle and resources. Taking the time to assess and identify the best fit will help you be more successful as you tackle your coursework.
What’s been your experience with online vs. on-campus courses? We’d like to hear!
Image by Robert S. Donovan via Creative Commons