Online College Degree Programs

My college matriculation is best summed up by the famous line from Robert Frost’s The Road Not Traveled, “I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”  I guess you could say I got a well-rounded education, because I bounced around three different schools and several majors before finally finishing up the process online. My only regret from the whole experience was that I didn’t pursue online degree programs earlier.

Pre-Medicine Requires Too Much Chemistry

For as long as I could remember I wanted to be a doctor. It seemed natural, and I had a genuine desire to want to help people.  So, I enrolled my freshman year declaring pre-medicine as my intended path of study and away I went.  Two years into the program, and six chemistry courses later, it all became rather overwhelming.  I had officially reached burnout with several years of school, medical school, and residency to go.  Being the practical personal I am, I realized I wasn’t going to stay motivated all the way through, and accepted the change of heart.

After a short stint as a physical therapy major, and after seeking out an athletic training internship, I decided my heart just wasn’t in medicine anymore.  Good thing I recognized this when I did–just imagine the money I could have wasted pursuing something my heart was no longer in.  A death in the family brought me back home about half way through my third year.  I decided to go to work, and eventually married my college sweetheart, and less than two years later we had our first child.

School, Family, and a Full Time Job

The birth of my daughter inspired me to get back in school and finish my education. I recognized my career opportunities and earnings potential were somewhat limited by the fact that I had not finished my undergraduate degree.  I enrolled at a nearby college, and thanks to a change in majors, transferring from the quarter system to the semester system, and going to school in different states, I practically had to start over.  And so I began a long, painful process of attending school at night from 6:00pm-10:00pm, Monday through Thursday, while working full time 8:00am-5:00pm and missing my newborn daughter and my wife terribly.  It was an exhausting time.

I kept up the pace for a couple years before a job relocation took me away from that local university, just a couple semesters shy of graduation.  A friend recommended I check out an online program offered by another local school.  He knew I was sick of being a “traditional,” in-class student because it kept me away from my family.  At the time online degree programs were relatively new on the scene, and I was a little skeptical.  I decided to look into it and I am sure glad I did.

The Benefits of an Online Education

There are many reason to finish your degree online.  For a husband and father of two working full-time I needed something with maximum flexibility.  Online education provided the ability to work around my job and family schedules while pursuing the exact same degree as those poor souls stuck in a classroom until 10:00pm.  The online degree program also forced me to upgrade technology, and stay on top of new web-based applications (something that later helped in my career).

Is an Online Degree Right For You?

Continuing your education online requires a greater degree of discipline than attending school in a traditional setting. All interaction with professors and classmates will be done virtually, usually via online chats, forums and email exchanges.  One of the main complaints about online degree programs is that you miss that social interaction sometimes required to fully grasp a new concept.  Professors will not be able to spoon-feed you information for exams.

When I attended a university full time professors made a point of emphasizing which areas of the text were most important, and often repeated contents of their lecture (a signal to write it down, because it would likely be on the test).  In an online environment you are often told to read pages 145-227 and expect any material contained to appear on the midterm.  It was up to you to figure out what was most important, and what would most likely appear on the exams.  It was an adjustment, but a good lesson in ignoring fluff and focusing in on what was most important.

I’d be interested to hear some of your experiences with an online degree.  Please feel free to share your story in the comments section below.


  1. I really like going to classes, but that’s just me. Sure, the drive sucks, but I like getting to talk to my fellow students and having somebody there to actually show me how to do a problem.

    Of course, I always point out to people that it’d be rather difficult for a Chemistry major to do online schooling, the labs are something you need to do yourself and in person. 🙂 Yeah, pre-med is a LOT of work, but so far I’m enjoying myself… The only thing I don’t like is the pressure to have as high of a GPA as possible, with the feeling that if I don’t manage to get straight A’s again I’m going to fail getting into med school.

    Then again, I have my back up plan as a bachelor’s in Finance. The military might end up delaying my med school plans, so I wanted to make sure there’s something else that I can get a job with and enjoy. Chemistry definitely isn’t my career of choice. 😉 (I’d go insane if I had to get a Ph.D. in it… Insane.)

  2. I studied online for the second quarter (credits 13-24) of my masters in teaching ESL. I found it really difficult. I had a hard time staying motivated and I really missed the face to face interaction. At the same time I was adjusting to living in a new country (France) speaking a newish language and planning my wedding, so it might not necessarily have been the online factor that was the problem!
    I had taken other classes, here and there, online and had never had a problem, but they were easy things like Psych 101 and Driver’s Ed.

  3. I’m taking online classes this coming semester just because of gas prices. I can’t afford to drive to the campus anymore! lol.

  4. It amazes me how similar our stories are. I started 4, yes FOUR different majors (pre-med, engineering, English, and Business). What classes do all 4 have in common?….none. So I wasted thousands of student loan dollars hopping around from major to major and then the money ran out.

    I went back a few years later, but it was a 50 minute drive one way to my old school and things just didn’t work out because my heart wasn’t in it. Several (10) years later, I enrolled in a bachelor’s program online and then 3 years later, completed my MBA online.

    For me, it’s the 21st century way to go!

    (thanks for the link to my article!)

  5. From students have spoken to, it truly is all about “fit” as online education works well for the motivated (and placebound) student as well as others. For those stdents who are not motivated or who cannot take their education into their own hands, online education is not always the way to go. With the growing number of online programs that have become available in the recent past the only warning I have about online is to make sure you go with an Accredited university and program,as without this, you can sometimes find yourself limited to job opportunities or further educational opportunities in the future (This is the same for regular brick & mortar (B&M) universities as well). Also, you have to wath as online programming can sometimes be more costly than regular B&M universities.

    I just wrote another article about choosing a college that is right for you that may also shed some light on the topic (if you don’t mind me sharing) –

  6. I have thought about completing my degree via online courses and after some research, they really are a good alternative to classroom studies. When you are working full time and have kids to take care of it, it is nice to have a chance to still complete my degree.

  7. I’m currently pursuing a Master’s in Accounting and Financial Management online, and I love, love, love it. I wish I’d done my Bachelor’s this way. I was one of the students who always had to push myself to show up for class – I had no issues reading the texts, but I couldn’t stand listening to the lectures. Now I have the ability to read my text, ask questions, and interact with people on my schedule. I’m enjoying my MSAF in a way I never enjoyed my BA.

  8. Albeit the research I’ve done is limited but I’ve found that often the online programs are quite a bit more expensive than a B&M classroom. Having a BS in Computer Science and Mathematics, I’ve looked at getting a Masters degree in Business to take advantage of management opportunities that may be available. (For some reason they take the MBA quite seriously.) Maybe I was spoiled to the cost of my university but the online programs I’ve found the MBA were hideously expensive (ie.- $35K to $40K and up). Am I not researching thoroughly enough or is that basically in line with what I can expect with online universities?

  9. @David: Online programs are not cheap, and executive MBA or distance MBA program are some of the more expensive programs out there. I’d encourage you to check out some of the smaller, regional universities with satellite campuses and distance programs (make sure any program you sign up for is accredited first). That’s what I did– after starting out at a larger university.

  10. I went to library school entirely online (Florida State), as I was placebound; I was extremely motivated and organized so it worked well for me. As an auditory learner, though, it did take some adjusting to not hear anything. Now I teach online classes at a 4-year school, and having been an online student has made me a much better online instructor.

    The schools that are private, 100% online (Phoenix, Nova Southeastern, etc.) are going to be much more expensive than B&M schools with online programs. Having said that, the online classes at a traditional school usually have some sort of extra fee attached; ours is $25/hour. If you want an entire degree online, try to find a traditional school that offers it.

    If you’re an older, nontraditional student whose computer skills are not up to date, get them up to date before you enroll in an online class. Your instructor will expect you to be up to date and she/he is not there to teach you computer skills.

  11. I completed my entire MBA online, and enjoyed every minute of it! As a mother of two small kids, and a full-time employee, it was the only way that I could fit in this degree. I enjoyed the flexibility, but I was in an accelerated program, so the work was fast paced and difficult. So many people think that online degrees are “the easy way out”, but I found the opposite to be true. When you have a 3-10 page paper due each week, on top of discussion board assignments and group projects, it’s tough. Especially those group projects…..that’s hard to coordinate in person, much less when you have never met the people and they are in 4 or 5 different time zones!

  12. Hey! That’s my school! War Eagle (I put in 4 good years there and LOVED it!).

    Sorry…off topic, but when I saw the photo in my reader, I had to get excited and cry out “War Eagle!”.

    …I believe in Auburn, and love it.

  13. @Kaye: War Eagle! We’ll have to tone this down, though…Ron over at The Wisdom Journal is an Alabama grad (proof that Auburn and Alabama fans can be friends!).

  14. In all likelihood, I’ll be getting my Master’s degree online. There’s a great program at Drexel which offers both types of library/information science and can be done entirely online. This is particularly important as we may be moving some of the time.

  15. I’m currently a distance learner with a B&M University and I love it! I couldn’t go any other way!

    Oh and in my experience so far if you don’t know what is the most important in a chapter or what will be on a test, then you can ask. Even with online classes the teachers are there for you (or should be).

    Good luck to anyone else either going to school online or planning to!

  16. Heh. I am in the process of looking for an online school to attend. I just checked with Phoenix online, and they gave me a quote of $30,000. This is with have 2 Associate’s degrees, 2 certificates of completion, 2 industry standard certifications, and 8 years practical in my chosen field. I really have to think hard on this one.

  17. Grats on your degrees, Frugal Dad.

    I, too, have changed paths more times than I’d like to admit. LOL.

    Most recently, I had been working on my BA in English at UMass, Lowell (I live in Los Angeles) until this past semester. However, I just enrolled at an online law school (yesterday) that *isn’t* a top notch school but is very reasonably priced. For me it is a perfect fit. I’m 43, and have been a legal secretary/paralegal for 20 years. I just want the degree/license and no debt when I’m done. I’ll be able to pay for the school myself while attending. Hard to beat not incurring debt! I’m just glad that we have so many opportunities to explore/receive education in today’s world. We can all find a way that works for us.

  18. I’m just wondering…what majors or courses should not be recommended to be done online?

    I’d like to get my degree online.

  19. I “supplemented” my traditional degree with online classes, and it was great! My small women’s college just didn’t have enough students to justify the cost of some classes.

    Online classes were less expensive (incentive for students), but it required a lot of motivation. I hear you about reading pages 147-250! The lack of face-to-face interaction was a bit frustrating, as was the lack of participation in discussion rooms.

    I’m continuing to supplement my education with online classes, because I just love to learn and really miss the academic life. Check out your local community college, or a not-so-local community college. I’m currently taking classes through; they offer some credit and non-credit classes at affordable rates.

  20. Learning by distance education is definitely the way to go, especially if you’re a more mature student. I live in Australia and I’m completing a Bachelor of Accounting through Open Universities. You can complete a degree online in one year or take up to six years, it’s very flexible and you can fit study in around your work/family commitments. After seeing prices for American colleges it’s well priced too. It costs an Aussie resident $700/subject or an international student $900/subject. You just need to complete 24 subjects to earn an Australian undergraduate degree.

  21. Online college and I have a love hate relationship. I love love love the online flexibility but I hate hate hate the price of classes!! I am curently on my last year at New York Institute of Technology (Ellis College – online campus.) I am scared to think in a year I will have to begin to pay this stuff off!!! I attended the University of Phoenix, however HATED it as many things required team tasks and it was a pain to get everyone together.

  22. I am currently working towards my bachelor’s degree online through the University of Oklahoma. While not easy, it has been a huge blessing to myself and my family. I’m learning a lot and I don’t have to drive or be away from my family constantly to do it.

  23. FRUGAL DAD!!! This is such an exciting topic as I am finishing up the last bits of my Ph.D. from an online program! I will be attending commencement next month…thanks for the little push of inspiration to get going on the last few pages! I have been attending for 5 years and totally love it. My undergrad and Master’s degrees are from B&M schools and there is a big difference. More positives than negatives. First of all – I have enjoyed the variety in instructors. In my Master’s program we had about 6 instructors that taught everything – and it didn’t take long for you to figure out their take on the subject. I also work fulltime and need the flexibility that an online degree offers, I am 50 – so kids are all raised and out the door, but I have career responsibilities that make it difficult to attend classes on set nights of the week. Up until the dissertation, my program was very structured – 12 week courses, assignments due Wednesday & Saturday, final papers and tests due on specific dates. The library services are phenomenal, the staff is always kind (no work study people who don’t care), the professors are dedicated career oriented people, many teach at other universities and all are published. Overall it has been a positive experience and I hope to get the opportunity to teach online in the near future.

    Thanks for the great question!!

  24. @Faye: I think most business majors are well-suited for an online environment. Most courses in marketing, management, info systems, etc. are easier to teach over the web than a hands on, instructional discipline such as engineering, or medicine.

  25. I completed my degree online and it was the best thing for me! The college I attended also offered integrated coursework (which I think was another innovative learning tool) so it was more applicable to my work environment AND accomplished several courses in one quarter. I chose to finish my education online because we had a small child, my husband was working second shift so going to school in the evening wasn’t feasible since I didn’t want to be away from our son. Completing my degree online really was the best option and I’m glad I did it.

    I found that going to school online did involve more of a time commitment and you couldn’t slack off – your communication was forever engrained in the forum and posts and could always be poked and scrutinized. It does require someone with a high level of self-motivation and drive since you don’t have a professor your going to see and be held accountable to – or spoon feed you like you mentioned. Those things should really be considered as someone is continuing their education online, it truly isn’t for everyone.

    Now, I’m back in school for a different degree and I’m taking a few online classes. The technology is actually the same from when I took classes 6 years ago so I was happy to know that I wasn’t out of my “game.”

    A side note, I had an interview several years ago and the hiring manager degraded my education because it was online and insenuated that it was a “bought” degree. I kindly responded to him that it was much harder and tried to explain some of the reasoning of “why.” Some in the older way of thinking just don’t get it yet. Everything is geared towards an online forum and I personally think I was ahead of the curve…that’s what I think anyway 🙂

  26. I hate to be the one nay-sayer of the group, but overall I did not enjoy my online learning experience. Yes, I loved the ability to log into school on my own terms and complete the work that way but that was about the best part of it.

    My first complaint was the price of the school. I think I paid $30K for my online degree. Second, and this may be a strange thing to complain about, I found the work too easy. I completed the vast majority of courses without ever reading the textbook and feel like I walked away with little to no knowledge of my chosen field. The interactions between students were perfunctory for the most part so it was rare that we got a really good discussion going in any class.

    I will throw in the disclaimer that this was back in 2005 and I chose a for profit school. Hopefully the quality of online learning has improved since my day because I think it could be a great medium for self-motivators, like myself, or for people whose work/family/life commitments keep them from a more traditional school schedule.

    Currently I’m in a traditional MBA program and wish that I had finished my undergrad this way.

  27. I am a current college student (married mother of two and a homemaker) and I usually take one class in house and two online. You must be a self motivated person for online classes. I never have thought about myself as such. I am doing awesome, and I find time to do other things with my family.

    If it was not for the online classes, I would not have been able to go back until both of my children were in school and old enough to take care of themselves for a while.

    I am getting the same credits for the courses online as I would if I took them all on campus.

  28. I’m curious to hear more from the online MBA people, I’ve thought about it just because of the convenience, but not sure if it’s worth it. Isn’t an integral part of going to business school leaving with a substantial rolodex of contacts? How does that change when you get this degree online?

  29. I attended two universities with both face-to-face and online courses before moving overseas (husband was in the Navy) two years shy of completing my degree. I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to attend and finish my degree through an online university.

    It was incredibly challenging as I went from semesters to quarters and I tried to keep a full course load (12-15 credit hours). There was a period of time where two quarters overlapped and I was taking 30 credit hours for a one month period (15 credits 1st quarter, 15 credits 2nd quarter). This period of time also happend to coincide with a trip back to the States to visit family (and pulled several all nighters in front of the computer).

    I felt the online studies were much more intense than the F2F. Much more work and effort is required on the student’s part. It was challenging, frustrating (electricity was horrible), convenient (I could work full time and go to school full time), but most importantly…it met my needs. I was able to finish my degree before we were relocated again.

    I’m pondering going back for a Master’s and am revisiting the options of online versus F2F. The only thing I missed with the online courses was the F2F social interaction you covered in your article. However, finding an option that works best for me far outweighs having the discussion/interaction in person.

  30. I’m graduating from an online school this August! I prefer face-to-face classes but I’m an Army wife living overseas so my options are limited. It has definitely taught about self-motivation and setting personal goals though. It is the same price as my b&m college, but that may be due to a military education contract. I feel like I’m missing out on a special experience but I glad I didn’t have to put my degree on hold for four years! I guess it works for me, I’m just glad that I’m nearly finished!

  31. I’ve took both in residence and online courses while completing my bachelors degree, which was the only way I could have completed it while I was on active duty. I’ve also looked into online MBA programs because I don’t want to attend any local MBA programs. I prefer in residence courses because I learn better through debate and discussion, so I may hold off before attending an MBA program. (by the way, on of the schools high on my list for an online MBA program in Auburn – it’s a great program!).