Search our Site!

Articles By Subject

Pros and Cons of Online College

by Justin Boyle

Home >> Articles >> General Articles >> Pros and Cons of Online College

With so many people these days choosing to attend college online rather than shell out for a campus-based degree, it helps to have a clear understanding of the drawbacks and advantages of online education. Let's take a look at some common upsides and downsides of earning your degree online, so you can better decide for yourself if the virtual classroom is right for you.

Advantages of online classes

  1. Online education is less expensive. In most cases, students earning online degrees pay less overall for their education than those studying at traditional universities. Even if the difference in tuition between traditional and online schools isn't always huge, online course materials are often a more affordable option than textbooks.
  2. Scheduling online classes is easier. Students at traditional universities worry about finding a spot in a class they need or preventing schedule conflicts between class meeting times. Online students can attend classes whenever they have the time, and online courses typically have very high-capacity admission rates (if any at all).
  3. Online colleges offer expanded access. Students who live in rural areas or lack the appropriate transportation to get to a brick-and-mortar campus can attend college online in a part- or full-time capacity without worrying about travel time.
  4. Online classes help you focus on the material. College campuses are chock-full of extracurricular activities that seem to be designed to distract you from the textbooks you spent so much money to read. Online courses remove a lot of the "college experience" from college, making it easier to concentrate on your studies and graduate with high marks.

There are other cited advantages of online degrees, such as the low-intensity style of interaction with professors or the ability to take more classes per semester than are typically available. Not all advantages or disadvantages of online classes are universal -- you might appreciate something about online school that other people see as a downside.

Disadvantages of online education

  1. You provide your own motivation. Online course work is perfect for people who can motivate themselves to get things done, but those who need external forces to keep them on track might have trouble. Self-starters and self-supervisors can do very well in online classes.
  2. Some computer skill is necessary. Not everyone is a natural wizard with computers, but there are no online degrees that don't require computer use. Online education software and tools are usually pretty easy to understand, but they may take some getting used to.
  3. Some high-powered degrees might be less valuable online. Hiring managers from many top-tier business and financial firms don't yet see an online MBA as equivalent to a traditional degree. Research shows that advancement within your existing company can often be equally facilitated by either a traditional or online degree, however.
  4. You have to work to make professional connections. The same environment that protects you from distractions will also make it more difficult for you to engage in the professional networking environment that college can provide. Online students should try to interface with professional organizations or join extracurricular discussion groups to help build their network.

These ups and downs aren't the only ones, of course -- there are more pros and cons of online education than could reasonably be listed in just one article.

Use this list as a starting point and engage yourself in some independent research. That's what online students are good at, after all.


"The Downside and Upside of an Online MBA," Business, Career Advice, Beecher Tuttle, March 21, 2012

"Ten Disadvantages of Online Courses," Online Student Success Center, July 27, 2006 

"Pros and Cons of Online Colleges," Ryan May

"Advantages and Disadvantages of Taking Classes Online," Online Degree Advice, Amy Brantley

About Author

Justin Boyle is a freelance writer and journalist in Austin, Texas.

Featured Schools

Searching Searching ...

Matching School Ads
5 Program(s) Found
  • Alumni have appeared in reality competition shows such as Top Chef and Project Runway.
  • Has a team of about 4,000 faculty members focused on helping students tap opportunities in a marketplace driven by ideas.
  • Offers programs in design, media arts, fashion, and culinary.
  • Provides program coordinators who work with students to ensure they have the learning materials, assignments, facilities, and faculty to get the most out of the program.
  • Over 50 campus locations nationwide.
Show more [+]
Good for Working Adults
  • Flexible Scheduling
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
1 Program(s) Found
  • Ranked #11 in the 2014 Best Graduate Schools in Social Work by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Offers more specialization opportunities than any other social work program, with 10 concentrations and sub-concentrations and 8 dual-degree programs.
  • The first elite researching university to offer a Master of Social Work degree online.
  • Has 1,600 field internship opportunities that give students real-world experience.
  • Through its 47 endowed scholarships, it has awared $200,000 to Ph.D students over the course of four years.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
  • Accelerated Programs
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
5 Program(s) Found
  • Students who qualify may apply for the Opportunity Scholarship, which can help lower education costs.
  • Offers career-focused, degree programs to over 70,000 students at over 140 ITT Technical Institutes in 35 states.
  • Classes are offered year-round, with day and evening course options.
  • Online courses can be accessed from anywhere, 24 hours a day.
  • Nationally accredited by the Accrediting Council for Independent Colleges and Schools.
Show more [+]
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
2 Program(s) Found
  • Ranked 15th among the Best Education Schools in 2015 by U.S. News and World Report.
  • Established in 1918 with the mission, “to improve learning in urban education locally, nationally, and globally.”
  • The first major research university to offer an online M.A.  in teaching program.
  • Offers certificate through doctoral programs in teaching, counseling, and more.
  • All programs taught with the guiding principles of leadership, learning, accountability, and diversity.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
5 Program(s) Found
  • 95% alumni satisfaction rate.
  • Currently holds more than 500 professional alliances, including 19 of the top Fortune 100 companies.
  • Potential students may preview a free, one-week mini course to get an accurate impression of the student experience.
  • Courses are taught by expert faculty, with 86% of professors possessing a doctoral degree.
  • Offers credit for prior experience and learning, as well as scholarships, accelerated programs, and several other ways to help reduce tuition costs.
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses
  • Financial Aid
  • Transferable Credits
4 Program(s) Found
  • Offers training in various types of massage therapy, physical therapy/sports rehab, and personal fitness training & wellness.
  • Teaches in an environment that promotes learning and encourages empathetic and compassionate therapists.
  • Career service professionals work directly with students from the start of their program, and help them pursue employment in day spas, luxury hotels, cruise ships, and other locations.
  • Students can work in the SOCHI Massage Clinic to gain experience and build their career skills.
  • Financial aid representatives help students develop a personalized financial plan to finance their tuition.
Show more [+]
  • Financial Aid
5 Program(s) Found
  • Ranked among the Best National Universities in 2015 by U.S. News & World Report.
  • Receives more than $110 million in sponsor support each year, creating valuable research and experience opportunities for students.
  • Designated as a 2015 Military Friendly School by Victory Media.
  • Offers more than 200 degree programs across 15 colleges and schools.
  • Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE).
Show more [+]
  • Online Courses