Is it a real school? Won’t you miss meeting new people? Will you be able to get a job with a degree you got online? Don’t you want to move away and be on your own? How will you get a degree if you don’t have GPA? Is it accredited? Is it as good as normal college?
It’s a lot of pressure being a naive 18-year-old and trying to figure out what to do with the rest of your life. Luckily for us, the path of traditional forms of schooling has been laid out by the experiences of those that have come before us. Here’s a summary: graduate high school, go to a four-year college, get an awesome degree, get an equally awesome job, get a thumbs up from your proud parents.
Super. Unfortunately for some, these traditional forms of schooling don’t seem to be the right fit for everyone (i.e. both Lucas and I ). No worries though! This is where online colleges come in!
Online college, as you know, is not a new thing, but there does seem to be a growing trend towards online colleges becoming an alternative to traditional brick and mortar colleges. Let it be known, it’s not just for your 32-year-old aunt going back to school for her masters to get that pay bump at work.
Lucas and I both attended an online college called Western Governors University, which in terms of “traditional” online school is actually a rather non-traditional option (but more on that later). Before we did WGU, Lucas did some time at a traditional four-year school before transferring to a more local two-year school, that I also went to, where we both received our Associate's degree.
Now there are definitely pros and cons to either type of post-secondary schooling, but I’m here to let you know about some of the definite pros of online schooling for you to take to heart as you consider which path works best for you.
Before I start this list, big disclaimer here: when I say “most colleges” that means some...not all. I base these statements on the research we’ve done and our own experiences, so there are likely some online colleges that are an exception to what I state.
1. Work Full-time so you can PAY for the school you are going to!
Traditional colleges have set class times that students are expected to attend, sometimes spread throughout the day. Between the class time, homework, and the good ole “college experiences”, there’s not a lot of time left for college students to maintain a part-time, nevertheless, a full-time job without wearing themselves thin. Therefore, the remaining options are having mom and dad pay up or go thousands of dollars in debt with those awesome student loans.
Now, most online colleges have flexible scheduling in which you do school on your time. You are responsible for “attending class” by creating your own schedule of when you will get the work done during the week. Both Lucas and I were able to work full-time jobs while attending an online school which drastically helped cut down the costs of student loans (yes, we still had student loans but definitely not as much as we could have had). I was able to pay for online school and be debt-free when I graduated.
2. Have real-life experience with a job similar to what you are going to school for!
Employers love some good experience. But what great job experience is a twenty-some new graduate going to have as they apply for their first real-life adult job? Maybe you’ll get lucky. Maybe you had an awesome internship, maybe you know someone who can put in a good word, or even have a family friend willing to hire you. Not everyone is so lucky and you’ll spend years building up experience to get the job you really wanted.
With flexible scheduling and actually having the time for a job you can get a headstart by entering a field you are already getting an education in. You’ll have the edge! I got an elementary education degree while I worked in a school, with students, teaching reading and math to struggling students, I did observational learning with a teacher I knew was a pro, student taught with a teacher I already knew and then got a job. All in the same school.
Disclaimer: fulltime job + fullitme student = not much of a social life (you’ll have to figure out the balance, but hey, I managed to lock down my now-husband during that time, so anything is possible.)
3. It’s all about the MONEY
Oh, money. It’s no secret, college is crazy expensive and online college can also be just as expensive. Now here’s where things get situational.
Lucas and I attended an online college (Western Governors University) that was a flat rate tuition for a 6 month semester. Now if you do the math, we were attending a year round college. *Gasp*. The tuition at the time for a semester was, drumroll, $3,000 (+ small fees). If you do some more math, a year of college cost us less than $7,000. It was the essence of affordable schooling, and I promise you just because it was so affordable doesn’t mean we weren’t getting a good education. Those are the lies the big wigs from big-name colleges want you to believe.
Also. Both Lucas and I lived at home while we attended online college. We mooched the free housing, free food, free laundry for as long as we possibly could. As much as we would have enjoyed the freedom and independence of living on our own, we saved SO MUCH MONEY! We are now happily married, living separate from our parents, and we’re not bogged down with extra loan debt from trying to afford student housing.
4. Non-traditional school deserves non-traditional learning.
For most traditional colleges, you attend class by sitting in a big classroom and listening to someone talk at you for a while, you take some notes and then do the homework. Some slight variations may be included.
Now I only attended one online college for one degree program, but my learning was a combination of reading assignments, webinars, (optional) community discussion boards, self-assessments, links to various resources all wrapped into a bundle that my personal academic mentor and I discussed how I would best tackle so that I could be successful. Basically, I took charge of how I learned and I could cater my learning to what worked best for me.
Am I ranting yet? Probably.
5. You Don’t Have to Deal with all the People
Hear me out. Some people are awesome. Some people are worth avoiding. And skipping the whole traditional class setting means getting to skip all the idiosyncrasies of the traditional classroom that occur. Usually, something that starts with "Now let's go around the room and....." My learning was centered around me. I got one-on-one experiences with mentors and professors and they never brushed over my questions so they could get on with the lesson, nor did I have to stop my learning to wait for the professor to answer someone else's questions (that I already knew the answer to because I was actually listening and not texting).
Now some would say “Well you won’t meet any new friends if you hide in your hermit hole and do school all by yourself!”Truth. But. Just because we were skipping the traditional school experience doesn’t mean we never met new people in our lives. We worked jobs during the day. I made friends at my work and I still work with some of them, which in comparison, at this point in my life my college friendships would now be long-distance or non-existent.
6. Flexible location
Your school is your computer. I completed my schooling in the comfort of my home, in every coffee shop in our area, and anywhere I could have possibly imagined. I was still close to my family, which to me was a plus (others may see that differently). The job I worked during college transitioned into being the same workplace I currently work at after I graduated (just a different position). I didn't have to up and move miles and miles away to get my education. I could stay connected to the life and community I was already apart of.
Now I understand some students like to move away to be on their own and "find themselves". That's great. You do that. I just didn't feel like I needed that.
I want to make perfectly clear, this is not a one type fits all persuasion attack. Online college works for some, not all. I think it’s best to be informed of all the options out there and get information from credible sources (like people who have done/experienced the thing your reading about).
Like most colleges, it’s challenging. Another challenge though is that it takes a lot of personal responsibility to stay on top of it since you have so much freedom and flexibility with your scheduling. It’s also hard work and takes quite a bit of persistence and focus as you are the one responsible for learning as you do the course work (there’s not some old dude probably wearing glasses telling you exactly what you need to know).
So. As for the common questions we got when starting WGU that I began this article with:
Is it a real school? Yes.
Won’t you miss meeting new people? Nope, because we still meet new people. Just not at school.
Will you be able to get a job with a degree you got online? We did.
Don’t you want to move away and be on your own? Sure. But we were patient and we live on our own now (just together, because, we're married).
How will you get a degree if you don’t have GPA? If employers went by GPA, they wouldn’t necessarily be choosing the best employees.
Is it accredited? It is!
Is it as good as normal college? I like to think so.
It’s up to you to decide what works best for you. Do your research. Talk to humans.
Best of luck.
Now, I want to go down a rabbit hole and explain a bit about the school I mentioned earlier that both Lucas and I attended that even for an online school was a bit non-traditional compared to the others.
Western Governors University. An entirely non-profit online school created by a crew of Governors looking to create a unique and affordable alternative to post-secondary schooling. It’s based in Salt Lake City, Utah, but you never have to go to Utah. Thank goodness. As I said earlier, it’s a year-round school with flat-rate tuition for a 6 month semester. At the time we went, tuition was around $3,000, which was just unheard of for higher education schooling.
WGU’s education programs are competency-based. Meaning, it was learning that I accomplished at my own pace, I could move quickly through the material I knew well and take my precious time on each aspect of a class I didn’t know (as well as have consistent email/phone contact with the professor overseeing the course).
I had a personal academic mentor that made sure I was completing my course work. We had weekly contact over the phone where we would talk about my progress, what I planned on working on next, what I was struggling with, and what my goals were. To complete the course, you had to pass a pre-assessment (that my academic advisor approved) as well as a cumulative final assessment (that my academic mentor approved).
When you graduate, there are two options for a graduation ceremony you can attend. Usually in Utah, sometimes in Florida (mine was at a Disney resort. What?! I didn't go though).
**Also. All of you who are running through the hoops of completing a teaching degree and getting your license like I was, my academic mentor was my saving grace. She helped me through each step of the terribley complicated process. She helped set up my observational hours, my student teaching, she advised me through which state exams I had to complete and completing my MN- EdTPA (which the college assessors graded and suggested changes before I turned it into the state). It was great.
Find out more about WGU here: wgu.edu