Online degrees offer convenience and (occasionally) some cost-savings. But is an online degree a good idea for you? The pros and cons of online education.

Whether you’re considered going back to school or going for the first time, getting a degree online is one of the biggest decisions you’ll have to consider. Is an online degree a good idea?

Most universities now offer online classes, and many offer full degree programs.

It’s no surprise that younger students are increasingly drawn to online education. In this article I’ll show you some of the best online degrees you can get, as well as some additional resources to help you make this big life decision.

Take the decision seriously

Before we say anything else, know that you when pursuing online education, you have to be very careful! For every legitimate online university or valuable online course, there’s a degree mill that will take your money, teach you little of value, and give you a piece of paper that’s practically worthless.

When searching for online education, the best thing you can do for yourself is to research the program thoroughly before you enroll.

  • Is it accredited?
  • By whom?
  • Are graduates in your field satisfied?
  • Are they getting jobs?

Validate this information yourself, don’t rely on your “admissions officer” who may be incentivized to enroll more students, not by ensuring the school is a good fit for you.

Even when you attend a reputable online university, no degree will guarantee a job. Understand that your results will largely be based on the effort you put into choosing the right program, learning from that program and proactively applying your knowledge to your career.

Is an online degree less expensive?

The short answer? Not always.

As you saw above, Penn State’s bachelor’s degree will set you back over $60,000 for an undergraduate degree. Not exactly spare change.

Even schools that specialize in online degrees can charge quite a bit. DeVry University, for instance, costs new students $609 per credit hour. For a measuring stick, this is about triple what I paid for my undergraduate degree at a public state university.

One thing to consider, though, is that I’ve farmed out the top schools for online degrees in this article. You very well may be able to find schools or degrees that are less expensive than their in-person counterparts. You just may need to dig a little.

Is an online degree right for you?

Online degrees aren’t for everybody. Getting a degree online can be much more complicated than it seems. A friend of mine got an advanced degree online a few years ago and said those years were some of the most difficult of their life.

When you go to school online, you have to be self-motivated. You need to manage your time well and make sure you’re keeping up with the often heavy workload.

Managing assignments, for instance, can be a little easier when you’re physically sitting in a class at a particular time each day, having a professor remind you of assignments that are due.

I took some online courses while going for my bachelor’s degree and I hated them.

While I got “digital interaction” by reading people’s posts on our message boards, I missed the human interaction from sitting in class. When I went back for my MBA, I specifically chose classes that were in-person for this exact reason.

For people who don’t like a lot of face-to-face interaction, though, an online degree might be more your speed. Plus, you can go to school in your pajamas. (Though you can also do this at most in-person universities, too.) You can also interact with people from all over the world.

Another consideration is your learning style. If you’re an auditory (you learn by hearing) or visual (learn by seeing) learner, you may benefit from hearing lectures online or via a webinar. If you’re kinesthetic (you learn by doing), you may find more value physically going to class and interacting with others.

While learning style is by far the main thing you should consider, you can take this assessment to learn what your style is. It may give you more to consider.

If you’re interested some further perspective, USA Today offers these pros and cons of getting an online degree:

Pros:

  • Opportunity and convenience
  • Potentially lower costs
  • Faster completion

Cons:

  • Some subjects don’t work
  • Increased personal responsibility
  • Networking challenges

Ultimately, do what’s best for you, but I would encourage you to read their full article after you’re done with this one to give you a little more data to base your decision.

Will an employer laugh at my online degree?

If you asked me ten years ago, I’d say yes. But today, absolutely not. Times have changed, and employers know that.

Professionally, I have a lot of experience interviewing upper-level managers. I can honestly tell you that while I’ll notice if someone has a degree from the University of Phoenix, I don’t care. I’m much more interested in their experience and how they carry themselves.

In fact, one manager I interviewed had a master’s degree from a major university in our area. As I was asking him about his experience, I learned that he completed 100 percent of the degree online.

We ended up having an excellent conversation about how difficult it was, and how much he learned about managing his time and juggling multiple priorities at once.

So overall it was a great experience for him, and it shed more light for me on the fact that it doesn’t matter where you get your degree or how you get it.

Everyone has their individual experiences and does what’s best for them. I suggest you do the same.

Reputable universities for online degrees

Finally, let’s take a look at some acclaimed online programs. This list is by no means comprehensive, but it should give you an introduction into the kinds of programs that are available.

Bachelor’s degree: Embry-Riddle and Penn State

In general, some of the more popular online bachelor’s degree programs include accounting, business, computer Science, health care, and marketing. According to US News, both Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University (based out of Daytona Beach, Florida) and Pennsylvania State University (based out of State College, Pennsylvania) offer high-quality online degrees for undergraduates.

Embry-Riddle isn’t just known for their aeronautics and aviation programs (although about 65 percent of their students major in it). Twenty-five percent of their students major in business administration and management. Classes are never larger than 30 students, and the student body is about 90 percent male.

Embry-Riddle costs about $355 per credit, so if you’re using 120 credit hours as the measuring stick for a bachelor’s degree, the total cost of the degree will be somewhere in the neighborhood of $42,600. Keep in mind—this doesn’t include anything other than tuition costs.

Penn State is a little more balanced when it comes to academics. The top three majors chosen by students are Nursing (18 percent), Psychology (18 percent), and Business (11 percent).

The maximum class size here is 35, but the gender breakdown is much more even (about 57 percent female and 43 percent male). Both in-state and out-of-state tuition runs $535 per credit. At 120 total credit hours for a degree, that’s about $64,200.

Further reading: The Best Online Bachelor’s Programs (via US News)

Master’s of business administration: Temple University

The top-ranked online MBA program is Temple University (based out of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). According to US News, the program “…provides rigorous content, world-renowned faculty, convenient, high-quality interactive on-demand format, cutting-edge social technologies, HD video presentations, and web-conferencing technology allowing students to engage in course activities wherever they choose.”

You’ll also get small class sizes and access to things like mentoring, live tutoring, writing workshops, a live librarian, digitized library materials, and academic advising.

Temple charges $1,245 per credit hour, and their program is a total of 48 credit hours. These fees include more than just tuition, though.

Temple includes a week-long residency in which they cover your hotel, airfare, and food. It also includes access to special events and program activities. It doesn’t include the cost of textbooks, which they estimate to be about $100 per course.

Other graduate degrees

Here are some of the other best online graduate programs, by area of study, according to USNews:

Summary

As you can see, there’s a lot to think about when you’re considering getting an online degree. Ensure you weigh all the pros and cons before making such a major life decision.

Online degrees aren’t necessarily cheaper, but they’re certainly no lower in quality. Especially if you look at some of the very best online programs I’ve mentioned in this article.

In the end, do what makes the most sense for you. Consider your work, life, and family obligations. Regardless of what you decide, be proud of the fact you’re considering getting a degree at all.

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About the author

Chris Muller picture
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Chris has an MBA with a focus in advanced investments and has been writing about all things personal finance since 2015. He’s also built and run a digital marketing agency, focusing on content marketing, copywriting, and SEO, since 2016. You can connect with Chris on Twitter.