By Susanne Loxton

It’s safe to say that for most of us, a university degree can help to expand our career opportunities. However, what I learned during my educational journey is that it’s hard to follow this type of education while balancing a full-time job. Scheduling gets complex, and I could easily see how it limited my ability to plan for the future.

While technology does make a lot of great things possible,  I still couldn’t be in two places at once. Which is why I decided to look into online degrees. These are increasingly appealing to younger professionals like myself today who require a higher degree of education in order to move up the career ladder, but need something much more flexible than a traditional university setting.

However, my adventure with online journalism courses taught me that, while an online program certainly allowed me to accomplish more than I was previously capable of, it didn’t come without its own set of challenges. As ideal as an online degree may seem, there are times it is difficult to jump right into the e-learning world.

Here are the top three benefits and challenges that revealed themselves during my experience with an online degree program:

The Benefits

1. It’s Not as Expensive as a Traditional Degree

Considering all of the physical materials and additional expenses campus classes will draw up, online learning is lower in cost.There are many expenses involved in the traditional set-up–such as commuting or materials to use in class–that you probably won’t need for online schooling. It’s also more expensive to run a physical college–there are overhead expenses which become part of your tuition. Online colleges eliminate these expenses, making it more financially feasible for students to attend them.

2. Scheduling is More Flexible

One of the biggest deterrents that people face when it comes to obtaining a new degree is the complexity of scheduling. If they’re already busy with everything else, how can they shift their schedule around to allow for schooling at a set time? That’s what I thought as well. Online college courses generally don’t require this type of sacrifice. I could get to them whenever it worked best for me. Sometimes I would only have a few spare hours in the morning or after work, and that’s when I chose to complete my tasks. I was the one setting the schedule.

3. You Can Work at a Faster Pace

In a traditional college, I’d have to devote a significant portion of my time to things like gen-ed classes. Many online learning programs offer the opportunity to bypass them entirely, and instead focusing solely on classes that are actually helpful towards getting that desired degree. Some classes even allow students to work ahead, if they don’t already offer a fast-track course.

The Challenges

1. I Couldn’t Do Everything Online

This is perhaps the biggest challenge of them all. It all depends on one thing, really–the degree choice. Obviously, no online student can become a neurosurgeon–it’s just something that cannot be taught over the Internet. Some degrees are impossible to transform into exclusively online courses, but choosing an online college that has a physical location is an option. I found one I could reasonably access, so I opted for an in-class and online hybrid arrangement. That’s how I was able to get the best of both worlds and make my journalism course a little more accessible.

2. It’s Harder to Communicate

Some things are easier to discuss face-to-face, in real-time, which is another thing I wasn’t getting attending online college. Most of the time, instructions are written or prerecorded into video lectures, so I couldn’t just interrupt or ask for clarification.I had to submit a question and wait for the professor to answer it. This also spilled over into group projects, where team members weren’t always online and available at the same hours I was. It takes extensive coordination of communication to make it work, especially if the tasks are urgent.

3. You’ll Need to Be(come) a Self-Starter

One of the best things about a traditional college is that it provides your needed materials, and instructors tell you what to do and when to do it. But in online learning, I could exchange deadlines and allow for more flexibility. Still, if I wanted to get anything done, I had to arrange times and set deadlines for myself. If I were lazy, a procrastinator or simply forgetful, an online course would have been next to impossible to complete–they simply require a lot of willpower if one wants to reach a degree. If a degree can be obtained through an online college, and you believe you’re patient and self-disciplined enough, there’s certainly no harm in giving it a shot. Even if it doesn’t work out, you will spend less money than you would if you attempted to do the same thing with a physical college.

My experience has taught me that online courses simply require a different type of approach to education, so if the challenges don’t seem too uncomfortable and the benefits are very much enticing, I really encourage you to give it a try.

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Susanne Loxton is a Communications Specialist at Aubiz, a compendium of knowledge about companies in her native Australia. Follow her on Twitter: @LoxtonSusanne.


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