Weighing the Pros and Cons of Online vs. In-Person Learning

Whether you’re an undergraduate, graduate, or transfer student, you have multiple options when it comes to pursuing your degree. Not only are there hundreds of majors, minors, and concentrations to choose from — there are also different ways to pursue your degree, like going to class in person vs. taking courses online. So what are the pros and cons of online learning, and how do traditional, on-campus programs stack up?

We’ll compare the advantages and drawbacks of both options in this guide so that you can make a more confident decision about which type of program is right for you. We’ll also share some statistics about online learning that might surprise you, along with a list of the top seven degrees to earn online in 2022. If you’re applying to colleges (or thinking about it), keep reading to learn why you should consider choosing an online degree or certificate program.


Should I Go to College Online or On Campus?

Is it better to go to college online or on campus? It depends on what you’re looking for in a program and what criteria are most important to you. For example, online programs simultaneously make it more convenient and more affordable to attend classes and earn your degree — especially if you’re already busy working full-time or raising a family. Additionally, an online program may enable you to earn your degree faster than a traditional program, so that you can become qualified for your dream career sooner. Learn more about how the four-week course structure at National University can help you graduate earlier, or read about how to qualify for our accelerated study option.

Ultimately, it’s up to you to determine whether an online or in-person program is the right choice — but you don’t have to make your decision without help. Our friendly enrollment counselors are here to answer all of your questions and provide you with detailed information about our online, on-campus, and hybrid programs. Contact our admissions office to request program information, or continue reading to learn more about the pros and cons of earning your degree online.

What Are the Benefits of Online Education?

Distance education is becoming more popular among college students across the U.S., with 11.8 million undergraduates enrolled in online classes in 2020 compared to just 6 million — only about half as many — in 2019. Here are just a few of the reasons why so many students prefer online coursework.

1. Scheduling Flexibility

In a hectic, busy world, online courses offer unmatched convenience and flexibility. Whether you’re a night owl or a morning person, online classes allow you to log in and complete your work anywhere, anytime — all in your favorite pair of pajamas. Study on your schedule, without the need for a stressful, time-wasting commute.

2. Lower Tuition and Boarding Costs

Online students don’t have to pay for student housing, gas for commuting, or on-campus meal programs. That can translate to substantial savings, which is a major perk for cost-conscious students. Just think of what you could do with the money you’ll save on transit, food, and dorm living.

3. Increased Networking Opportunities

Online courses let you interact with students in remote locations all over the world. That could lead to professional opportunities you might not be exposed to in a traditional classroom setting. Online courses make it easy to be a passive participant, but for the investment you’re making, it’s much more fulfilling to take advantage of your networking opportunities.

4. Perfect for Busy Parents and Workers

Going to work or raising a family? Online courses let you build an education around your routine so that you don’t have to give up family time, hire expensive babysitters, or cut your hours at work. Distance education is ideal for anyone with a hectic or unpredictable calendar, from stay-at-home parents to busy freelancers. For example, many students attend online college while working full-time.

5. More Equitable, Accessible Learning

Another advantage of online classes is that they can open up more learning opportunities for students with disabilities, making postsecondary education more accessible and inclusive. Online courses allow students to learn at their own pace on their own schedule, which is an approach to studying known as asynchronous learning. This format empowers students to take notes, review lectures, and go over other course materials in a way that works best for them.

What Are the Benefits of Taking Courses in Person? 

We’ve just discussed how the benefits of online learning include lower tuition costs, more flexible scheduling, and enhanced accessibility for students with disabilities. So what are some of the advantages that traditional classrooms or other in-person learning environments might offer?

1. Distraction-Free Environment

A successful education demands focus and concentration. Classrooms, laboratories, and lecture halls create tightly focused, distraction-free learning environments with all the tools and space you need, so that you can dedicate yourself to the lesson — not to that annoying car alarm, barking dog, or ringing phone in the background.

2. Hands-On Learning

Not every student learns the same way. Some people are visual learners, some people like to take detailed notes, and some people learn best from first-hand experience. Additionally, there are some disciplines that require hands-on experience, such as learning how to repair a machine or perform a medical procedure. If direct, hands-on learning opportunities are important to you, an on-campus degree program might make the better fit.

What Are Some Potential Considerations of Attending College Online?

If you’re thinking about attending college online, it’s important to be aware of some potential considerations to online learning, which will enable you to make a more informed decision about your educational path. Here are a few challenges and considerations to prepare for if you’re pursuing an online degree, credential, or certificate program.

1. Tougher Technical Requirements

If you consider yourself more tech-challenged than tech-savvy, online learning might pose a few obstacles due to its heavy reliance on computer programs, which can be expensive to purchase and tough to navigate. Fortunately, there are countless resources to help you master the software you’ll need to succeed. In fact, many schools have dedicated IT departments and help desk services for students who may have issues with online learning portals, as well as troubleshooting guides.

2. Greater Need for Self-Motivation

For self-paced programs, you’ll need to employ some serious self-discipline to ensure you complete your work in a timely fashion. Without a rigid class schedule to push you to attend a class at a designated time and place every week, it may be harder to reap the full benefits that distance education has to offer if you tend to procrastinate.

3. Possible Distractions at Home

Unfortunately, not everyone is lucky enough to have a serene home office or local park they can escape to. If your home environment is chaotic and full of distractions — such as screaming children, rowdy roommates, or the ever-present allure of having Netflix and video games in your direct line of sight — it might be a challenge to stay focused on your coursework.

4. Less Cooperation and Interaction with Peers

Write a new section about how in-person classes make it easy to collaborate in group projects, discussions, and small talk before and after class, but you have to work at communicating and building relationships with peers when taking an online program.

What Are Some Potential Considerations of Attending College On-Campus?

Now that we’ve examined both the pros and cons of online classes — along with some of the advantages of in-person learning — let’s complete our comparison by reviewing three potential drawbacks to earning your degree in a traditional, campus-based setting. You’ll need to factor higher costs into your academic budget, along with a daily or weekly commute — so why else might online learning be a better option for you?

1. Less Control Over Scheduling

In a traditional, on-campus degree program, you have much less control over when and where you attend classes than you would in an online program. If you have a crammed calendar, or if your availability tends to fluctuate — for instance, if you’re an independent contractor who goes through slow periods and busy periods — you might want to opt for an online program. This can grant you a greater degree of control over your class schedule.

2. Commuting to Classes

If you attend your classes in person, you’ll need to commute to and from campus. Depending on your living arrangements, that can guzzle up gas, time, and money — not to mention put you through stressful traffic jams every day. If you plan to enroll in an on-campus program, be sure to think carefully about the logistics around your daily commute.

3. Higher Tuition Expenses

Traditional students tend to have higher expenses due to factors such as student housing, on-campus meal programs, and public transit or gas for commuting.

What Degrees Can You Get Online?

If there’s one trait that online and in-person programs both share in common, it’s the sheer number of degrees that are available to students in either setting. For example, National University offers more than 45 accredited degree programs that are available 100% online, including graduate and undergraduate programs in marketing, nursing, engineering, law, computer science, psychology, and more. Use our program finder to explore the possibilities. 

Top 7 Degrees to Earn Online

1. Accounting

National University offers graduate and undergraduate accounting programs, including the Bachelor of Science in Accounting and Master of Accounting (MAcc). Learn more about how to become an accountant by earning your degree online.

2. Business Administration

A Master of Business Administration (MBA) can increase your earning power substantially. According to MBA.com, reporting on a survey conducted by the Graduate Management Admission Council, “[I]n 2021, the average starting salary for MBAs was between 22% and 40% higher than for bachelor graduates.” Earn your MBA online at National University, or build the foundation for a career in business by earning your Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA).

3. Computer Science

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), computer and information research scientists earned a median salary of more than $131,000 in 2021. Additionally, these fields are expected to grow by 21% from 2020 through 2030 — a rate that is considered “much faster than average” by the BLS — suggesting that there will be plentiful job opportunities for CS graduates in the coming years. Our programs allow students to earn a Master of Science in Computer Science (MSCS) or Bachelor of Science in Computer Science (BSCS) 100% online.

4. Education

Educators are in high demand, especially in science, mathematics, and special education. The demand is particularly great in states like California, which is grappling with pronounced teacher shortages. NU offers numerous teaching credentials and certificate programs 100% online, along with education degrees that prepare students to become academic leaders and administrators. Earn your Bachelor of Arts in Early Childhood Education (BAECE), pursue your Master of Arts in Education (MAE), advance your teaching career with single-subject and multiple-subject credentials, or explore our other accredited program offerings.

5. Engineering

As an engineer, you have opportunities to explore interests that range from computing, mining, and nuclear energy to aerospace, chemistry, workplace safety, and the environment. According to BLS data, certain types of engineers — including nuclear, aerospace, and petroleum engineers — earn a median salary of over $120,000. Launch or advance your career in engineering through accredited online programs at NU, like our Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering (BSECE) or Master of Science in Engineering Management (MSEM).

6. Marketing

A marketing degree, such as the Bachelor of Arts in Integrated Marketing Communications, equips students with the foundational skills for a broad range of careers, ranging from fundraising and event management to sales and public relations. According to the BLS, the median salary for professionals in the marketing, promotions, and management field was over $133,000 as of 2021, with “faster than average” (10%) job growth expected from 2020 to 2030.

7. Nursing

Between a national nursing shortage and an aging population, nursing is one of the hottest careers you can kickstart online. The question is, which type of nurse will you train to become? NU offers a wide range of healthcare and nursing programs to help you advance academically and professionally, no matter what field you specialize in or where you’re looking to take your career. Explore our accredited programs in areas like healthcare administration, public health, nursing, and more.

Curious about these or other online and hybrid programs that might be a good fit for you? Explore the most in-demand bachelor’s degrees you can earn online — or, if you’re ready to apply to graduate programs, discover the best master’s degrees for the future.

Earn Your Degree Online or On-Campus at National University 

Online degree programs have exploded in popularity since 2020. COVID-19 unquestionably accelerated these trends — but even with the pandemic now ebbing, online learning is here to stay. In fact, the demand for online education is growing, according to research from the global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, which reports that there’s been an “11% increase in total enrollment for [the] largest online universities” — and at the same time, a 3% decrease in enrollment overall. In other words, even with fewer students enrolling in colleges, online enrollment is still creeping upward, highlighting a steady cultural shift toward web-based or virtual models of learning.

Even though social distancing is now less of a concern, there are still clear benefits to choosing an online program, from saving money on board and tuition to gaining more control over your schedule. With all the practical, financial, and academic advantages that virtual learning has to offer, it’s no wonder why so many students are enrolling in online degree programs — or why Yahoo Finance has called online learning “the future of education,” while U.S. News has written that “online learning is reshaping higher education.”

Whether you pursue your degree online or on-campus, you’ll find dozens of fast-paced, accredited program options at National University. An early pioneer in distance education, we’ve been offering online programs for over 20 years. And with our commitment to making higher education affordable — a commitment we honor through scholarships, grants, and discounts for military students — it’s never been easier to jumpstart your future. 

Find out what an education from National University can do for your career. Contact our admissions office to speak with an enrollment counselor, or start your application today. 

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