If you’re trying to decide between an online degree and a degree from a traditional college, look no further. While both options have their similarities (you’ll end up with a degree either way), their differences may affect your finances and academic experience, among other things.


Academics

The academic experience is perhaps the most crucial difference between an online college and a traditional one. At a brick-and-mortar school, students learn alongside their peers. They may even supplement their learning with fieldwork, internships, or job shadowing. This makes brick-and-mortar school a great choice for students who are interested in vocations that require in-person trainings or observation hours (medicine, teaching, trades, etc.) Online college, on the other hand, allows students to complete their education at their own pace. It is totally fine if they want to breeze through one lesson and mosey through another.

  • If you want to learn at your own pace: Online college
  • If you want hands-on experience: Brick-and-mortar college

Student Learning Style

In a classroom, students must show up at a certain time, and a professor provides structure. Online classes are often looser. Students may have a week to complete each lesson. If they have doubts or questions, their professors might not be immediately available, so they must be resourceful.

  • If you crave independence or flexibility: Online college
  • If you’re looking for structure: Brick-and-mortar college

Finances

Online colleges don’t have as many overhead costs. They don’t have to maintain classrooms, farms, gardens, or dorms, and they certainly don’t budget for after-school activities. Students in these programs often reap these benefits in the form of smaller tuition bills. Students at traditional colleges, on the other hand, often pay more while enjoying more programs and experiences.

  • If you’re looking to cut costs: Online college
  • If extras (e.g., freshman orientation, gym memberships, Greek life) would enrich your college experience: Brick-and-mortar college

Prioritizing Commitments

Attending a brick-and-mortar school is a huge commitment. It can dictate everything from your housing situation to your commute. Many full-time students like that immersive experience. Other students, particularly those who are studying only part-time or those who are also working or raising families, prefer that school doesn’t control their entire lives.

  • If you want to put work or family first, school second: Online college
  • If you want to concentrate on school: Brick-and-mortar college

Housing

Brick-and-mortar schools often give you options, but some schools require you to live on campus. Not only is on-campus housing more expensive than living at home, but students are also confined to a certain location. If you want the freedom to live anywhere in the world, consider an online college.

  • If you’d like to live at home: Online college
  • If you’d like the option to live on campus: Brick-and-mortar college

Social Scene

Brick-and-mortar schools give you the opportunity to meet people the old-fashioned way (in class or in the dorms, for example). Going to an online college doesn’t mean you won’t make connections, but networking can be more difficult. Unless you happen to live near classmates or an associated brick-and-mortar campus, most of your interactions with peers and professors will be virtual. Some students who feel like they have enough obligations as it is are just fine with that.

  • If you want to focus on existing friendships and family obligations: Online college
  • If you’d benefit from living near a large social network: Brick-and-mortar college

School Reputation

Online colleges have a certain stigma attached to them. People may believe they are easier or less prestigious than traditional brick-and-mortar colleges, but these are common misconceptions about online college. In fact, while brick-and-mortar colleges offer traditionally respected experiences, students in online degree programs use technology and stay current.

  • If you’re looking for a cutting-edge, relevant program: Online college
  • If you’re looking to attend a long-established program: Brick-and-mortar college

Success after Graduation

Although students in online degree programs will be completing all of their requirements online, students in programs associated with brick-and-mortar colleges often have access to extras. This might include career counseling, résumé help, or internship opportunities. Students at all-online colleges will not have the same perks, but they do benefit from the fact that their peers and professors are located all over the world, not necessarily near a certain campus.

  • If you want a network of fellow alumni all over the globe: Online college
  • If you want access to in-person career counseling: Brick-and-mortar college

Page last updated: 02/2017