On-Campus versus Online Universities

COVID19 is real and you should wear a face mask and stay 6 feet apart from people that you don’t live with, at least until your local governor lifts the mask mandate. Now that that’s out of the way, a lot of people are opting to continue their education online this year. I also have friends’ whose first-year college kids decided to go in-person but to stay at a local community college instead of going to their dream university right away. Either way, college is a little different this year. Are you on the fence about a traditional on-campus experience or choosing one of the online universities?

First of all, most universities that are regionally accredited, no matter if the university is an online university or a traditional on-campus university, will accept federal student aid and you will have to fill out the FAFSA. I wrote a blog post about how financial aid works here.

I got my bachelors degree in-person at a state university. State universities are usually nonprofit and usually regionally accredited. I’m getting my masters degree online at an online university. This online university is also nonprofit and is regionally accredited. My roommate is getting his masters degree from a state university but his program is mostly online this year. Our online experiences are very different because our colleges have different online approaches.

Online Programs All Do Things Differently

All online universities have different approaches from one another. Do not assume all online programs are the same style. My online university doesn’t prioritize lectures. They have them, but attendance isn’t a requirement. (I know, crazy, right?) I still do as many live lectures as I can. When I can’t, there’s usually a recorded lecture for me to watch. There’s not a lot of wiggle room in my program for other classes – my program is my program and I just have to do it. My roommate has a little more leeway with his classes, but not much. He also has to go to campus one or twice a month. I’m not sure why. I don’t completely understand his program. I think he just has that “one professor” who is preferring to do his class in-person or something.

When I was getting my bachelors in-person, I had so much leeway I didn’t really know what to do half the time. One semester that messed me up pretty bad. Most of the time it was kind of nice to be able to look into different interests every now and then, though.

You’ll Need To Figure Out Your Study Habits

You’ll need to figure out how to study best based on your program style. When I was doing in-person classes, generally I just did the reading and went to class and didn’t study much. The lectures were helpful. The discussions were even more helpful. I could ask questions in-person and get an answer with a face that came with emotion.

In my online program, I generally do the reading and watch the lectures as well. However, the lectures don’t help as much as they did when I was in-person. Also, the lectures usually aren’t really over the reading content. The lectures are more “additional information” or how to navigate certain things, or tips with the best way to approach the material in the course.

That’s fine and it still works. I have always been pretty good at reading through everything myself and making sense of the material eventually. Some people may not be very good at that.

Your Equipment Needs Will Vary

For my in-person undergraduate degree, I took notes in a Moleskine notebook. I tried a laptop every now and then but I was more at home with a notebook. For my online program, I needed a laptop. I chose a Surface Pro 7 so that I could handwrite some things with the stylus and touch screen.

Here is the laptop I bought in the ad below. Just so you know, I’m a member of the Amazon Associates Program and earn money from qualifying purchases.

Adjust Your Expectations For Social Interaction

On a much more depressing note, there is hardly any social interaction in my online program. A few of us made a little Slack group and we complain about classes and keep up with each other in that, but that’s about it. My graduate advisor calls me every week and makes sure I’m doing alright. I can always reach out if I need to. My roommate’s online program has more social interaction because his lectures are more designed to replace in-person classes.

Some Online Universities Let You Accelerate Your Classes

On much more happy note, I find I’m getting through the material a little faster since my program doesn’t prioritize traditional lectures. Western Governor’s University is “competency-based”. To them, that means if I pass the assessments, I get credit for the class. The amount of time I spend in a class isn’t weighted at all. A month and a half into my program, I’ve essentially completed an entire semester of full-time graduate classes. (Full-time for graduate students is 9 credit hours.) The classes are getting harder as they go, though. It’s looking like I might get done with my program in a year instead of 2 years. Not all online universities are competency-based. In fact, they’re quite rare and are a newer idea.

Be aware that the phrase “accelerating” is generally for marketing purposes. There’s no real set standard for “accelerating”. All universities handle it differently. What one university considers accelerating won’t necessarily be what another one considers it to be. Sometimes universities may also use other terms in its place, like “fast-tracking”. Don’t choose your school based on the advertising of accelerating. Plan on the program taking you the normal amount of time: 4 years for an undergraduate degree, 2 years for a masters degree, 3 years or more for a PhD.

Online Universities Work Well For Some People

In some ways I would have preferred an in-person on-campus program, but then again I’m not sure what I benefited from with my in-person program for my English degree. I still got lost in the shuffle as an older student and didn’t get to take advantage of many of the on-campus opportunities. I think that has more to do with my personality than my age.

What’s more important than online vs in-person is the school’s accreditation and if they are nonprofit or for profit. I do not have experience with for-profit universities and don’t know much about them. For profit universities aren’t inherently evil in theory, though, so as long as you do your research on your program and you’re okay its accreditation status, you will probably be okay.

You can ask current and former students about their programs at all the universities that interest you. If you’re getting your masters degree, I would double check with any future PhD programs you are specifically interested in to make sure they will accept your degree from your master’s program when applying. Most of the time, PhD programs like working with you as long as your program is accredited and you can product some sort of transcript showcasing at least a 3.0 GPA, or the equivalent of a 3.0 GPA.

I’m Looking Into In-Person State Universities for my PhD

I’m personally looking into in-person PhD programs at state universities instead of online PhD programs at online universities. I like getting MBA online, but I want experience teaching while I get my PhD, which is something you will miss out on in most online masters and PhD programs.

Do I prefer in-person or online universities? Personally, I still recommend in-person programs for your undergraduate degree. They force you out of your shell a little and better prepare you for bureaucracy you’ll experience out there in the real world. For masters programs, online classes or online universities can really make things easier and less stressful for you if you’re the right person for them. You will, however, miss out on some networking benefits and teaching experience.

I’d love to do a comparison of the undergraduate level and the graduate level. Unfortunately, my programs are so different there’s really not a good and fair way to do it. This blog post is probably all I’ll be able to give you about it for now.

Is there anything you would like to know about online universities or in-person universities? Or is there anything else you’d like to know about college? All I have is my experience in my programs, but I’m happy to share. Leave a comment below if you have more questions or want me to blog about anything else.

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