Online College Degree Pros and Cons

From associate's to doctoral degrees, online programs at all levels are becoming more frequently common. However, distance education still isn't right for everyone.

Online degree programs provide key benefits for enrolled students, but there are also some drawbacks to consider. Learn more about an online program's flexibility, costs, time management issues and more in order to decide if online learning is a good option for you.

Pros and Cons of Online College Degree Programs

There are a lot of options for students considering enrollment in an undergraduate or graduate online degree program. For example, a student just starting his or her postsecondary education may earn an applied associate's degree in their specific field of interest or a general associate's degree that transfers to a 4-year program. Working professionals may be interested in online graduate programs, such as a Master of Business Administration, in order to advance their careers. Online degree programs come with both advantages and disadvantages.


There are a variety of advantages to earning a degree online, including the flexibility of these programs, the cost-saving elements of studying from home and the ability to study at any college in the country without traveling.

Greater Flexibility

Many online degree programs use asynchronous learning, which means that a distance learning student doesn't need to be online at the same time as his or her instructors. This allows students to complete their coursework any time, any place and around any busy schedule. Also, while most online degree programs have a timetable for completing the coursework, deadlines may be more flexible for online students.

Lower Costs

Tuition for online degree programs may be the same, or sometimes less, than their on-campus counterparts, and online programs also typically save students money in other areas. Online students don't have to relocate to attend school, and they can save money on costs like commuting and childcare. Furthermore, many learning materials are offered in digital formats, such as e-books, that often cost less than their physical counterparts.

Greater Options

Students who live in a small town or rural area without many colleges or universities may have limited on-campus education options. Online degree programs give them access to hundreds more potential institutions - all without leaving the comfort of their home.


Despite the many advantages of online learning, there are also some disadvantages to pursuing a degree remotely. Those who have trouble working in solitude or managing their time may find online programs challenging.

Self-Motivation Issues

Students who struggle to force themselves to complete unpleasant tasks or assignments may not have the motivation to complete an online education program. There's no one to hold them accountable for deadlines or lectures, and students may find it harder to get work done in this environment.


Online students have the chance to communicate with their professors and fellow students through e-mail, chat and online forums. However, telecommunication can't replace face-to-face interactions. For many people, college is an opportunity to gain valuable social experiences, and online students miss out on these chances in a distance learning degree program.

Non-Accredited Programs

These days, online degree programs are offered by many reputable colleges and universities, but there are also thousands of scams out there. Prospective online students should be careful to avoid the diploma mills and degree programs that won't be accepted by future employers or other educational institutions. It's important for online learners to check the accreditation of their prospective programs and conduct some research to ensure that the school's policies are legal and legitimate.

Lack of Hands-On Training

There are some degree programs that either aren't available online or shouldn't be completed online due to the importance of hands-on training. Nursing, for example, is a field that typically requires clinical experience that just can't be achieved on the Internet. However, many institutions now offer blended programs that allow students to complete a portion of their coursework online and commute to a local campus for clinical courses and other hands-on experiences. Some of these programs may require that applicants already hold another degree or have prior work experience.

Technology Requirements

Having access to adequate computer technology for online learning is essential for success in an online degree program, and there are both benefits and drawbacks to these technology requirements. While a computer may be expensive, having a high-quality system can be helpful when completing academic coursework, as well as in future careers and for personal use.

Schools generally specify minimum computer hardware and software requirements for students, and additional technology may be required for specific disciplines. In fact, many people already own computers that meet specifications. Students usually need to have a computer with the following features:

  • A recent Windows, Mac or Linux operating system
  • A high-speed internet connection
  • A certain amount of memory
  • Office software
  • Antivirus software
  • CD/DVD drive
  • Speakers/headphones
  • Webcam

Online degree programs have many benefits, including greater scheduling freedom, more degree options and cost savings. At the same time, there are also some challenges and drawbacks, such as no personal interaction with professors and other students.

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