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Higher education: Online versus brick-and-mortar

Many factors go into choosing which university to attend. And today, online universities are a popular choice. But pursuing an online degree is not for everybody. A degree-seeking student needs to take into account their academic goals, their financial situation, and their social priorities when choosing a platform for college classes.

Flexibility

One of the main differences between traditional brick-and-mortar universities and their online counterparts is the flexibility of attending classes. Campus-based programs require a student to conform to predetermined class meeting times. On the other hand, online classes can be accessed any time of day or night. Students must determine for themselves whether they need the structure and rigidity of in-person classes or if they are self-disciplined enough to be able to succeed in a more flexible virtual environment.

Interaction with professors

By their very nature, on-campus programs will offer more ways to contact and interact with professors. Not only will students have a chance to ask questions in class, but most professors have office hours where students can come by and discuss any issues pertaining to coursework. Online professors can be accommodating, as well. However, communication is usually by way of e-mail and face-to-face meetings are usually not possible. This may or may not be an issue for inexperienced students. But it should be a consideration, especially if the coursework is expected to be difficult and extra help is needed.

Social experience

Limited social experience is one of the main drawbacks to getting an online degree. There is usually little to no interaction with other students in a virtual environment. For the adult degree seeker with a job and a family, the lack of social interaction may not pose a problem. But for the young single adult who wants a "college" experience, it could be a deciding factor. Attending classes the old-fashioned way may be a better alternative if a student is looking to attend ball games, parties, and other social events.

Tuition

The cost of attendance is one area where online and traditional options are relatively similar. The average cost of online tuition is only slightly higher than that of traditional settings. However, living expenses are considerably less with an online education.

The bottom line is that a student must choose the learning environment that suits their own individual needs and desires. And both online universities and traditional institutions offer challenging programs to enable students to achieve their educational goals. Choosing to attend college in the traditional way or online is all about what kind of experience a student is looking for. Not only should students take into account their personal learning style and personal finances, but their social needs as well.