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

Table of Contents

Thanks to advancements in technology, distance education has become more accessible than ever before, with most U.S. colleges and universities now offering a wide range of online graduate and undergraduate degree programs. Recently, in an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, more and more students are choosing to attend college online. Whether you’re interested in studying healthcare, engineering, computer science, business, education, or another field altogether, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to earn your degree, certificate, or credential online. 

However, while online learning can offer many benefits, distance education isn’t necessarily the right choice for everyone. Some students may achieve better educational outcomes in a traditional, on-campus setting, which comes with advantages of its own. In order to get the most out of your degree, it’s important to determine which style of learning works best for you. 

To help you make the right decision, we’ve compiled this guide comparing the pros and cons of online college vs. traditional college. When choosing between online or in-person learning, it’s important to take into account factors like scheduling flexibility, course structure, learning environment, the role of technology, the need for self-motivation, and exposure to networking opportunities. 

If you’re considering earning your certificate, credential, bachelor’s or master’s degree online, you should weigh these factors carefully before you apply. By choosing a model of learning that fits with your lifestyle and personal preferences, you’ll be positioning yourself for better career and educational outcomes in the future. 

Should I Go to College Online or On Campus?

The answer to this question is different for every student. Ultimately, it depends on finding an academic program that satisfies your needs, your goals, and your priorities. A feature or requirement that’s beneficial for one student might be disadvantageous for another, making it crucial to evaluate both options thoroughly. With that in mind, let’s take a closer look at some of the key differences between online and on-campus degree programs. 

What Are the Benefits of Online Education?  

Distance education is becoming more popular among college students across the U.S. According to EducationData.org, which draws its statistics from sources like this comprehensive report on online learning, roughly 6.6 million students “enrolled in some form of distance education/online learning courses” during 2017, compared to over 6.9 million in 2018. Here are just a few of the reasons why so many students prefer online coursework. 

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.   

Lower Tuition & 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. 

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.  

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. From stay-at-home parents to busy freelancers, distance education is ideal for anyone with a hectic or unpredictable calendar. For example, many students attend online college while working full-time.  

What Are the Benefits of Taking Courses in Person? 

While virtual learning is growing in popularity, traditional on-campus courses continue to dominate the educational landscape. So, what are some of the reasons why in-person learning remains the preferred choice for many?  

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. 

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 Drawbacks of Attending College Online?

Under the right set of circumstances, distance education offers a host of unique benefits. On the other hand, there can also be be a few drawbacks to online learning. Here are some potential pitfalls you may want to consider before you apply. 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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

Even though many students benefit from in-person learning, there are still a few reasons why online programs might be the better option for you. Here are a few crucial points to consider before you commit to an on-campus program. 

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. 

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.  

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. 

Earn Your Degree Online or On-Campus at National University 

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. 

Additional Sources







Chat with an Advisor