Pros and Cons (Chapter 2)
There are advantages and disadvantages to pursuing a masters degree online, and most of these will likely depend on what stage of life you are in and how you operate as a student. The list below does not cover all of the pros and cons associated with getting a masters degree online, but it includes important, broad issues that you should consider before making your decision. As you read the following points, keep your own lifestyle and personal habits in mind.
One of the biggest advantages of pursuing a masters degree online is the ability to access course materials and to submit completed assignments from anywhere and at any time. The flexibility that this allows students, especially those whose schedules are not the normal 9 to 5, can be a real selling point. If you don’t have regular access to a computer and a reliable Internet connection, the benefits of accessibility quickly diminish.
Another advantage to online masters degree programs is that many programs are less strict when it comes to how long you have to finish your degree. This can be nice if you don’t have a particular time frame in which to finish or if you worry that life events such as births, deaths or marriages may throw you off of your degree track.
Choosing to get an online masters degree can give you a lot of independence. If you are organized, a self-starter and capable of setting and meeting deadlines, the format of online masters degree programs will probably work in your favor. On the other hand, if you tend to procrastinate and rely on outside reminders to complete assignments, an online masters degree may not be the best choice for you.
- Cost Efficiency
Online masters degree programs are occasionally less expensive than on-campus programs. It is also more likely that you will work while earning your online degree, so the cost of a masters degree might be less of a burden.
Although you may not be physically seated next to your classmates, an online masters degree program will allow you to interact and hold discussions with a varied group of students. The diversity of life, work and educational experiences that you will come into contact with can provide you with a better understanding of subjects, shed light on new perspectives and expose you to a broad range of personalities. You must, however, take the time to engage with your classmates and professors in order to benefit from their knowledge and experiences.
- Degree Validity
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of getting a masters degree online is that employers might wonder how valid the degree is. Even though online education is becoming a more common option for both non-traditional and traditional students, the reputation of online education lags behind traditional programs of study. In a 2011 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and The Chronicle of Higher Education, 51% of the college presidents questioned believe that their online education programs are as beneficial as their on-site programs. The same survey found that a much smaller percentage of American adults believed the same to be true.
Though universities are constantly working to improve their online programs, it is important to know how the general public views online education. It is also crucial to be aware that not every program is created equal; some online programs rival their on-campus counterparts in every way, while other programs fall short by many miles. Give yourself the time to look for programs that can offer the support and rigor that you will need to be successful in your future goals.
Take a look at the following suggestions that will help you to make wise decisions as you pursue an online masters degree:
- Make sure your masters degree is granted by a school that has received accreditation from a U.S. Department of Education-approved agency recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
- Before you enroll in a program, check with brick-and-mortar universities in your area to see if they offer online programs in your discipline. Many universities are starting to offer online-only and hybrid (half online, half on site) programs to meet the needs of increasingly diverse student bodies. If you decide to attend an online program that is offered by a brick-and-mortar university, you may be able to find a program that is as credible as a traditional degree.
- Once you enroll in an online masters degree program, be prepared to have a solid explanation for your decision to earn an online degree. Be prepared to show current and potential employers examples of course syllabi and work that you complete while you are in the program. If they can see a physical portfolio that documents your hard work, they may be more inclined to view your online masters degree as legitimate.
In an online masters degree program, you might not get the programmatic support that you were used to as an undergraduate student. Instead of having the reminders that come with being in class every day, you will be held responsible for knowing what and when you need to complete your assignments. The best online programs usually offer students advising and technological support in addition to online learning resources, access to an online library, writing center and tutoring center. However, unless your online masters program is associated with a brick-and-mortar institution near you, you will be limited to online support networks that may or may not provide you with sufficient help given your needs and learning preferences.
If you pursue a masters degree online, all of your communication with professors, advisors and support staff will occur through phone calls, e-mails and web chats. And while professors who teach online courses are available via e-mail and are expected to respond quickly, sometimes it is beneficial to have face-to-face contact with the people who are teaching you and guiding you through your masters degree. This can be especially true if your degree program ends with a large research project or thesis.
Your graduate school professors are important resources, and if you think that you would benefit more from having conversations with them than from sending e-mails back and forth, an online degree might be less satisfying than a traditional masters degree program.