College: Online vs In Person
I never really gave much thought to online colleges. I had heard commercials for them, seen the advertisements on TV, and knew a couple people that had done most of their schooling on-line. I always thought it was an easy out. That somehow a degree from an online university wasn't up to par with one from a traditional university. To be honest I never even researched any online schools, but I thought they were gimmicky or just fake.
Times have changed. Everything is done online. Can you remember the last time you stepped foot in a bank? Neither can I. Heck, I even do my grocery shopping online and just pick it up at the store. Some say its laziness, but I disagree. My time is valuable to me, I don't get much free time. If I can spend ten minutes online placing my order and spend just five picking it up I think it is worth it since I'd have spent an hour going through the grocery store myself, not to mention it saves me money by preventing me from impulse buying.
In my career field there is only one way to advance and it requires me to go back to school. Given that at the time I chose to pursue there weren't any in person classes open to me my only option was online universities. The local community college had just started a program for veterinary technology, but it wasn't accreditation yet and that was way riskier to me than an online school.
I have a bachelor's degree. I obtained from a traditional four year university. I worked very hard for that degree. I had to choose the times of my classes, what classes I would take, to live on or off campus. I had to make my study schedule. I had to figure out my meals. I never missed a lecture or lab. I had to do everything on my own.
Lectures were scheduled 2-3 times each week. For about an hour a professor would talk on a given topic. They would assign reading, possibly give homework, and that would be that. I would go back to my dorm or to my next class and repeat. Everything was pre-assigned. The tests, the essays, even the final exams were all on a timeline given on the syllabus on the first day of class. Structure was everywhere.
I also was not much of a party person so I mainly kept to myself. My senior year of college I took 18 credit hours, interned full time, and I worked part time. I had a balance of easy and hard classes. I was taking classes like Comparative Animal Physiology, Organic Chemistry, and Genetics but they were balanced with American Literature, which was made all the easier as I had read every work in my AP Literature class in high school. The pace for the classes was set for me. I had to go at the same pace as my peers, I had to go by my professor's schedule, there was no room for my input. In some ways this was fantastic, I was able to focus much of my time on studying for my harder classes. However, it was less than ideal when studying difficult topics. I was forced to keep up with the workload. My professors didn't care about how many classes I was in, they didn't care about my internship, and they didn't care about my part time job.
Having been out of school for a while I started to consider going back. I just didn't know what for. I started to research on-line schools as the only university near me did not have the programs that I was interested in, and there was little chance of being able to move cross country. I found that a lot of traditional universities were starting to offer a mix of on-line and in person programs, some even had completely online masters programs.
Once I figured out that I wanted to stay in the veterinary industry I knew there was only one way to progress my career: I needed my associated in veterinary technology so I could become an LVT (licensed veterinary technician). It was strange to think about having a bachelor's in biology but still needed to go back to school for an associates. But, it had to be done.
I settled on a school, had my transcripts sent, and applied. I was accepted and immediately started my classes. I was amazed at how it was set up. It wasn't gimmicky, it wasn't fake. They were real classes.
What I was most impressed about was the ability to do my classwork on my own schedule. My first semester was mostly easy classes, with two harder classes at the end. I had to pass each class in order to start the next. I couldn't believe it! One class at a time. I gave it my all. The program used automatically set test dates for me based upon my speed going through the classes, but I could change it if i needed to.
I had absolute freedom. I could do as fast or a slow as I wanted, I had a year to complete the first semester. Within a month I was 72% finished with my first semester. It was a major confidence boost! The only thing holding me back was paying for my classes (my particular university is pay as you go and you have to pay for a semester in full before you can start on the next)
Tying It All Together
I missed going to lectures. I might be weird in that, but its true. I like learning. I don't miss that one kid that knew they would be able to slow down the class if they asked stupid questions the whole time. You know what I'm talking about. Taking classes online wasn't the same feeling as attending lecture, but it was close and there were no annoying students trying to delay class.
Some people like the feel of campus life, and that is great and all, but it wasn't too amazing to me. I do miss having access to a really nice gym for free and the mess hall. Especially once I had to pay for my gym membership when the gym wasn't half as nice and then I had to cook my own meals after. But, I don't miss having 10 minutes between classes to sprint across campus. I don't miss having to walk a half mile in the rain to get to lab. I don't miss needed to get to class early to avoid having to sit in the front row or the very back of the lecture hall.
While I like the way my online classes are structured I can see how they are not for everyone. People that get sidetracked easily, need a teacher with them when they study, or don't have good time management skills would not do well in online school. I love the flexibility of being able to study around my crazy work schedule. I like that I can take tests when I feel that I am ready to.
Paying for my online school is very different too. I could either pay for it all up front or in monthly payments. Whereas I had to take out loans to pay for whatever my scholarships didn't cover. The cost for credit is cheaper at my online school, but I did notice that traditional universities that have online classes charge the same per credit hour for online classes as they do for in person lectures.
In The End
I have liked both traditional university and online university. I think both have offered classes that were equally difficult. While I like the ability to choose my pace with my online school work I know that it is not for everyone. Online school may be easier fit in to my schedule but it does lack a sense of school spirit and pride. I am proud to put on a shirt for Old Dominion, I would not wear a shirt for Penn Foster. I just don't feel that same sense of connection.
If you are trying to decide between the two different types of schools I suggest thinking about yourself. Are you the kind of person that can stay on task and can work independently? Do you want to feeling of belonging that comes with attending a major university? I find that it is also helpful to talk with current students. What do they like about their classes? What do they dislike? If you end up choosing one school over the other an not liking it you can always transfer. Remember: the schooling is for you and in the end it is up to you to get the most out of it.