Pros and Cons of Online School

By Anna Davies · December 08, 2023 · 7 minute read

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Pros and Cons of Online School

Whether you’re attending college for the first time or returning to finish your degree, you may have the opportunity to choose online vs. in-person classes. Though online college has been a niche offering in higher education for over a decade, it’s become more popular and commonplace in recent years. This is in part due to the COVID-19 pandemic, when many institutions were forced to shut down and adapt to distance learning. Though campuses have since opened back up, many students are opting to continue their studies online.

Online school offers benefits like flexibility and convenience. On the other hand, online learning can make it difficult for students to connect with their peers. It can also make it harder to grasp concepts that require more hands-on learning. What follows is a closer look at the pros and cons of online school.

What is Online School?

Online school is a format of education where classes are conducted virtually. Some colleges are designed specifically for online learning. Other colleges and universities may offer both in-person and remote learning options for students. Depending on the program, classes may be offered synchronously, where students attend via an online forum at a specific time; asynchronously, where lectures are recorded and can be viewed at a student’s leisure; or a hybrid model of the two.

While detractors of online learning say that it can be a pale imitation of in-person learning, there are several key advantages, including convenience and cost.

💡 Quick Tip: Fund your education with a low-rate, no-fee SoFi private student loan that covers all school-certified costs.

Pros of Online School

When schools pivoted to online learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the experience was generally set up ad-hoc and created to ride out the crisis. But many online programs have been constructed with online learning at the front of mind. This means that they may be thoughtfully designed in a way that supports distance learning.

When considering online schools, you’ll want to make sure that the program is accredited by an organization recognized by either the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accredited. This can help students avoid any online scams.

Part of analyzing whether online school will be successful for you is knowing yourself. The pandemic allowed a lot of people to obtain deep insight into whether working remotely — either at work or school — was productive or even enjoyable. It has also given some people confidence that, even if in-person is preferred, online is doable and may not be as challenging as they may have thought in the past. That said, if you think online school might be right for you, here are some other factors to consider.

Cost May Be Lower

No buildings and no in-person instruction means less expensive tuition, right? Not necessarily. While some institutions that specifically invest in online learning may be less expensive, you may find that online tuition is commensurate whether or not you go in person, depending on the program.

If cost is the primary factor in pursuing online education, it may be a good idea to look at universities and degree programs that specialize in online learning, as they may create pricing based on an online-first business model.

Recommended: How to Pay For Online College

More Convenient

A huge benefit to online school is that many programs are structured knowing that students may also be juggling career and family responsibilities. This can translate into asynchronous learning — lesson modules that can be done on your own time — rather than a mandatory lecture you need to attend at a set time and place.

Still, the time commitment required to attend online school can be challenging when you’re going to school and working at the same time. Even if you don’t need to be in class at a certain time, there will still be due dates, studying, and exams to contend with.

Self-Directed Course of Study

On a similar note, many fans of online courses like that the course can be more self-directed, allowing you to take control of your education on your own timeline. This may mean you need to be more proactive about scheduling office hours with professors, blocking out time to study, and making sure that assignments are turned in on time.

Cons of Online School

While some people thrive in an online environment, others may prefer to have in-person interaction. Here’s a look at some of the disadvantages of online school.

Limited Hands-On Experience

Some degree programs that have a lab component may be harder to mimic online. Some degrees accept virtual labs, while other degrees may require a “wet lab” (a.k.a. a hands-on lab). You’ll want to check what your degree needs, and confirm that all coursework can be done entirely online. It can also be helpful to speak with current students in the program to hear any of their frustrations.

Lack of Community

Some people find it hard to connect with classmates and may find group projects or virtual small groups to be much less engaging than they might otherwise have been if they had been in person.

Harder to Connect with Professors

Some professors maximize online interaction, while some may be harder to pin down and connect with. Heading to office hours, even if they are virtual, can help you build a connection and get to know the professor.

Limited Access to On-Campus Resources

If the online school you’re attending also has a brick-and-mortar campus, there may be resources for career development as well as on-campus events related to your department. It may be worth assessing how virtual students can tap into these resources and what resources are accessible to them.

Longer Timeframe

The flip side of a more convenient schedule means that courses may be more spread out. What could be a one- or two-year program in a full-time setting could potentially take several years if done virtually.

Recommended: Can You Get Student Loans for Community College?

Additional Considerations for Online School

Being able to pursue higher education remotely can open up possibilities for many individuals. But it can be a good idea to consider how online school will mesh with your life. Here are some tips that can help you find your best fit.

Talk with Other Students

It can be helpful to speak with current students who are in a similar position as you. Talking with a student who is also juggling family or a career can help you see how the process plays out in real life.

Sit in on a Lecture

Will the program allow you to virtually sit in on the lecture or see some course materials? Doing so can help you see how the program plays out in real life.

Take an Online Course

In some cases, online school can be an expensive undertaking. Prior to applying to an official degree program, consider taking a virtual course, either for fun or for credit hours. Taking a virtual course without the pressure of a degree can help you take stock of the pros and cons for yourself, and assess whether or not online learning is right for you.

Consider How You’ll Cover the Cost

If you are planning to do a degree program alongside working, you may want to speak with your employer. It may be possible that they can subsidize the cost of the degree if it is relevant to your career.

If your employer won’t cover the cost, you may want to consider the potential salary advancement you might get out of the program, which could offset your out-of-pocket expenses. It’s also a good idea to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA®) to find out what financial aid (including scholarships, grants, and federal student loans) you may qualify for.

You may then be able to fill in gaps in funding using private student loans. These are available through banks, credit unions, and online lenders. Loan limits vary from lender to lender, but you can often get up to the total cost of attendance, which gives you more borrowing power than with the federal government. Interest rates vary depending on the lender. Generally, borrowers (or cosigners) who have strong credit qualify for the lowest rates.

Just keep in mind that private loans may not offer the borrower protections — like deferment or forbearance — that automatically come with federal student loans.

💡 Quick Tip: It’s a good idea to understand the pros and cons of private student loans and federal student loans before committing to them.

The Takeaway

Going to school — whether it’s online or in-person — is a major decision. It’s important to consider pros and cons, including cost, as you assess whether it’s right for you. Speaking with people who’ve done the degree or work in your chosen career field can help you assess whether or not the program could help you achieve your goals and aspirations.

Taking the time to do the research, and potentially dipping your toe into online learning with one or two courses, can help you decide how online school may fit into your life and future plans.

If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.

Cover up to 100% of school-certified costs including tuition, books, supplies, room and board, and transportation with a private student loan from SoFi.

Photo credit: iStock/insta_photos

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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.


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