7 Things You Need to Know Before Taking Online Classes
Online classes are all the rage, and with good reason: The cost of higher education has skyrocketed. Those unwilling (or unable) to take on a mountain of student loan debt are forced to seek alternatives, and for many, that means earning a degree online. (See also: 8 Cheap Ways to Continue Your Education Without Going Back to School)
Advocates of distance learning programs tout advantages like flexibility and reduced cost, but is that really true? Listed below are some unexpected ways going to school online could cost you in the long run.
1. Lack of Human Interaction
The obvious difference between attending traditional classes and taking them online is the lack of people. No face-to-face teacher time, no sharing notes with your peers, no group projects. Often the discussion and debate that takes place in the classroom is what leads to true learning, and distance learners miss it completely. Not to mention that restricting oneself to only electronic messages leaves the door wide open for miscommunication.
2. You May Still Have to Commute
To combat the problems that arise when students and teachers never meet, some programs take a hybrid approach and require that virtual students come to campus several times throughout the course of their degree. If you choose an online program based out of state, or have limited resources for commuting, this will be costly and possibly take time away from work and family.
3. Hidden Fees
If you're attracted to online classes because of the flexibility, you might want to investigate how much it's going to cost you. Some online universities penalize students who just want to take one or two classes at a time. In addition, according to US News, "prospective students should also keep an eye out for assessment fees, graduation fees and yes, even parking fees when shopping around for an online degree program."
4. No FAFSA
If you're depending on Federal Student Loans to pay for your online education, be very careful when researching potential programs. An online school must be accredited by an authorized agency in order to participate in the federal financial aid program. Be on the lookout for fake "accreditors" whose fraudulent names sound real, but will get you rejected from FAFSA.
5. Less Experienced Teachers
Not everyone that has an advanced degree is cut out to be a teacher. Even fewer are cut out to be good teachers in an online environment. To qualify for online teaching positions, most schools only require a Master's degree, and in some cases, proof that the would-be teacher has taken a cluster of advanced coursework in the area they wish to teach. (See also: Could Online Teaching Be for You?)
6. No Extra-Curricular Activities
Ready for a shock? Often the most valuable college experiences happen outside the classroom and traditional coursework. Internships, apprenticeships, student government positions, summer research projects, Greek organizations, and academic clubs — these are the places you gain real job skills, and network with people who can help you later in life. They're also much harder to access if you're an online student. (See also: Is Taking Online Classes Right for You?)
7. You're More Likely to Fail
Schools that offer online classes love to promise how much easier it will be than traditional college. What they don't tell you is that unless you're incredibly disciplined, you're more likely to fail out of distance learning courses, thus wasting a ton of money. According to the New York Times, "...[S]tudent attrition rates — around 90% for some huge online courses — appear to be a problem even in small-scale online courses when compared with traditional face-to-face classes… Courses delivered solely online may be fine for highly skilled, highly motivated people, but they are inappropriate for struggling students who make up a significant portion of college enrollment and who need close contact with instructors to succeed."
Learn more about the hidden costs of online classes in the infographic below:
Have you taken college course online? What was your experience like?