15 Important Pros and Cons of Online College

Online college is a natural extension of virtual learning, an educational service that first began in 1986 when the Electronic University Network offered its first online course. That course was compatible with Commodore 64 computers. In 1994, CALCampus evolved this concept into real-time interaction with teachers and students.

By 1997, numerous schools were offering online classes and degree opportunities. Since then, online college has grown into a viable option for many people around the world. Some courses required in-person testing. Others do not.

That means there is a potential online college program that is suitable for every person. If you’re thinking about attending an online college, then here are the pros and cons you will want to consider.

List of the Pros of Online College

1. It fits your classes in better with your daily schedule.
Online colleges provide many classes which allow you to work on your own time instead of being online at a specific time. Although you will have group projects and be required to post comments, there is more time availability within an online college schedule when compared to the traditional classroom. For many assignments, as long as you meet the deadlines imposed, it doesn’t matter when you decide to work.

2. It reduces the number of missed learning opportunities.
College students typically miss 1-3 classes per semester for a variety of reasons. There may be a schedule conflict, an illness, or simple fatigue that keeps people from certain class activities. Thanks to the structure of online colleges, these issues typically go away. If you need to sleep in, then do it. Then get to your online class. Some classes may require live interactions at certain times, which may negate this benefit somewhat. For the most part, however, students enrolled in an online college gain more exposure to their class curriculum.

3. It allows students to work at their own pace.
During the average day with a full schedule, the traditional college student may spend 3 hours in a classroom. Then they might spend 6 hours, on average, completing their homework assignments for the class. That creates a rigid schedule which makes it difficult for some students to work. With an online college, there is less schedule rigidity. You have more opportunities to work at your own pace. Many students can cut their time commitments by at least 25%, with some up to 50%, while still achieving their degree.

4. It is more affordable than traditional college.
The cost of attending an online college is a fraction of the cost that it takes to attend a traditional college. The average student enrolled in online college classes will pay between $100 to $400 per credit hour. Compare that to the average cost per credit hour for all colleges at $594. Or compare that to the cost per credit hour of a 4-year private institution, which Student Loan Hero reports is $1,039 per hour in the United States. That means an online college can provide you with an accredited degree for about 10% of the cost when compared to a 4-year private institution.

5. It provides you with all your resources online.
Online colleges do require you to purchase textbooks. In the 1990s, the cost of textbooks could be higher than the cost of the class itself. Today, however, it is much different. You have access to your curriculum and schedule online. Many of the textbooks you’ll need are available for online download or through rental agencies. That makes it easier to study wherever you happen to be, which means you can be productive whenever you feel like being productive.

6. It still allows for independent testing.
In the past, most online colleges required students to stay for 2-4 weeks at the end of a semester to take final tests. With the rise of third-party test supervision in many communities, even this previous negative goes away. Although there is a cost to schedule an independent testing administrator locally, the costs are much lower than traveling to a college for up to a month, away from your job, while finishing up your course work.

7. It frees up time for the professors too.
Teachers have more time to work in the structure of an online college as well. They can respond to messages on their own time, which means there is more availability for students than trying to make it to a specific set of office hours. Professors can teach live with Facetime, Skype, or video conferencing, which allows for classroom interactions in real-time as well. The end result is a learning process that feels the same as it would for a traditional classroom, just with the convenience of being online.

List of the Cons of Online College

1. It requires students to be disciplined about their work.
Because there is more independence within the scheduling of classwork with an online college, students must be able to discipline themselves to do the work. The urge to procrastinate on school work can be strong, especially after a long day at a job. If the work is put off for too long, then just like a traditional college, students are going to receive a failing grade. You must find a way to stay on-task with the temptations of home around you.

2. It can be a lonely learning experience.
Online interactions with classmates are not the same as in-person interactions. Even though you receive the convenience of learning at home with an online college, you lose the traditional college experience. Making friends, having conversations, or going out for coffee together are all things that are not possible with online learning. Some colleges have started to host meet-up opportunities for local students and other types of get-togethers. If you’re learning from outside the area, however, you even lose out on this benefit.

3. It keeps you at home.
Online college keeps you at home. That can be a benefit to some. It can also be a tremendous disadvantage. There are times when getting out of the house is essential for good health. It gives you sunshine, social interactions, and the chance to tangibly experience the learning process. As with your schedule, you can still experience this, but only if you are self-disciplined about the experience. Far too often, these things are set aside, which means students begin to isolate at home over time.

4. It requires you to have more time in front of a computer.
If you work for 8 hours at your regular job in front of a computer, then the last thing you may want to do when you get home is to spend another 2 hours in front of a computer with your online college. Having large daily levels of screen time exposes you to light waves that can over-stimulate the brain, which may make it difficult to sleep. It also means you spend more time in a sedentary position, leading to future health issues over time. To counter this issue, you must find ways to stay active, even if that means going to the gym between work and school – or getting up early to do it.

5. It may require you to work separately.
Group studies are a key component of online colleges. You work with a team of people to research a topic, write a report, and then create a presentation. You are encouraged to work together. When you take a test, however, many online colleges require you to provide evidence that you worked on the material independently. If you do not provide proof that you worked separately, you may not be given a grade or receive the credits awarded from the class.

6. It may cause you to blend course materials together.
This is a risk for every student taking a heavy course schedule at any college. If you take a lot of similar classes, it becomes easy to blend what you’ve learned from one class into another. Because online colleges often use the same professors for multiple classes within a specific subject matter, this issue is often heightened. You must keep good notes, separate files, and maintain good learning habits to counter this issue.

7. It changes the learning dynamic for some students.
In the traditional classroom environment, there can be a desire to explore topics, engage in conversation, or ask questions that receive answers in real-time. That is not always possible with an online college. The design of learning online, in fact, encourages students to create to-do lists that they can check off instead of exploring learning tangents that can provide them with more personal experiences.

8. It requires a data connection.
You cannot attend an online college if you do not have a connection to the internet or a data connection. Public libraries, internet cafés, and similar locations can counter this issue for some.

The pros and cons of online college make it easier, cheaper, and more convenient to earn a post-graduate degree. If the potential negatives can be identified and countered early-on, it is often a rewarding experience for teachers and students.

Blog Post Author Credentials
Louise Gaille is the author of this post. She received her B.A. in Economics from the University of Washington. In addition to being a seasoned writer, Louise has almost a decade of experience in Banking and Finance. If you have any suggestions on how to make this post better, then go here to contact our team.