Pros and Cons: Online Degrees vs. Traditional Degrees

At one time, online degree programs were considered inferior to traditional degrees, and employers would rarely accept an online degree as equal to a degree from a brick and mortar school. But as more and more traditional schools add online programs, the line between these two options is blurring. Traditional schools have been adding online classes to the point where it’s now possible to get a major portion of a degree from a traditional school through their online courses. To employers, a degree like this would not look any different than one in which a student took all classes on campus.

Now, even for exclusively online degree programs that have accreditation, employers are finding them more acceptable. In a survey done by Excelsior College (an online degree program) and Zogby International, 83 percent of the CEO’s and executives they interviewed said an online degree is as credible as a more traditional degree. The key is whether or not the school is accredited.

Here are some of the pros and cons of online degrees vs. traditional degrees:

Campus life vs. online

For some students, the chance to move away from home and participate in campus life is one of the biggest draws of a traditional degree program. Traditional brick and mortar schools also have the extras of campus life, like activities, clubs and socializing that are hard to replace in an online environment. On the other hand, for students who prefer peace and solitude over the sometimes noisy and overwhelming social zoo of the campus, an online course may be preferable for speedier and more thorough individual learning.


For the student who is nontraditional, on-campus activities aren’t as important as other considerations when trying to make a decision about classes. You may be juggling work and/ or family and need the flexibility of an online degree program. In fact, for most students, flexibility is the biggest draw of online classes. Being able to do the coursework as their schedule allows is a necessity in some cases, and makes up for lack of face-to-face interaction with the teacher and other students.


There’s a myth among students that online degrees are cheaper. They can be, but according to U.S. News, online education was equal in cost to traditional education in 55 percent of the institutions it surveyed. And there are fewer scholarships and financial aid programs available for online degrees. One source of funding that working students often overlook is their job. Many employers will pay for classes that help an employee become a more skilled worker, either as payment towards tuition or as reimbursement at the end of the program.

When comparing online degrees and traditional degrees, all fees should be considered. Some online classes charge extra fees for classes and resources, whether the student uses the resource or not. These fees can add up to the point that an online class that seemed like a bargain, tuition-wise, is more expensive than an in-person class when all the fees are totaled. Students should always ask for a full “cost of attending” summary.


Any student considering an online degree, or any degree in fact, should first check the accreditation of the school. One thing to be aware of in researching accreditation of an online school is that some for-profit schools have created phony agencies with names that sound impressive, but are worthless. These “faux-accreditations” can fool people, so whichever college a student decides on, it should be checked for accreditation through the Department of Education website. Another helpful website that compares online colleges and programs, along with accreditation, is the U.S. News website.

Graduate Degrees

Students hoping to get into a graduate program need to find out if a degree from an online school will be accepted. Different schools have different requirements, but overall, your choices for graduate programs will be more limited with an online degree. However, graduate degrees earned online are becoming just as accepted as undergraduate degrees. If you’re trying to get a graduate degree while working, employers may look at you as having the dedication and skills needed to make a good worker. Again, some employers will pay for classes or may even pay for your degree if it improves your workplace performance. Talk to your employer about whether or not this is an option.


Students shouldn’t go into an online program thinking it will be easier than regular classes. That may have been true years ago, but more stringent rules have made online courses just as difficult as classroom courses. Online classes can be exceptionally well organized to teach the maximum amount of information in the minimum amount of time. One professor who teaches both online classes at a for-profit college and a class at a traditional school says the online course is much more rigorous.

With the growing acceptance of online degree programs, students now have options if they need more flexibility in their classes. And as long as they’re diligent in checking out the program, their online degree can be just as valuable as one from a traditional school.

Reyna Ramli is a writer for, a technology company that is dedicated to match skillful job seekers with great companies. When Reyna is not writing, she enjoys cooking, working out, and reading fashion blogs and magazines. Follow Reyna on Twitter!


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