Deciding to go to college is about more than choosing a degree program. You’ll also need to decide which type of college experience is right for you.
For some, that means living at home, working part time, and taking general education coursework at a nearby community college. For others, it involves enrolling full time in an on-campus program, settling into dorm life, and figuring out how to make the most out of their meal plan dollars. Are you working full time and raising a family? If so, maybe neither of those options is viable, and you’ve decided that online coursework is your golden ticket toward educational advancement.
The bottom line is this: when it comes to going to college, there’s no such thing as a “one size fits all” learning experience. What works for you might not work for your sibling, your best friend, or the co-worker who sits at the desk behind you.
But how do you choose the best college experience for you?
If you’re exploring college options and you already know your career goals (e.g., you want to become a teacher, biologist, or engineer), then you’ll want to research which colleges have the best degree program for that particular study track. This isn’t about finding the “best school”; it’s about finding the school that’s best for you.
Creating a college plan requires matching your interests and career goals with an educational program. But again, choosing your degree is just part of the equation. You also need to decide how (and where) you want to complete your courses.
If you want to save money on your degree, you may be able to complete your general education coursework at a community college. But if you go that route, make sure those credit hours will transfer.
One of the main reasons people choose to start at a community college relates to cost, which makes sense at first glance. For example, in the 2018-2019 academic year, the average cost to attend a public two-year school was $3,660 per year, compared with $9,697 per year for an in-state public four-year school.
Therefore, completing general education credits at community college might cost $7,320, compared with $19,394 at a four-year school. But if only half of your credits transfer, you’ll need to retake some courses, and that means paying for an extra year of tuition. Instead of paying an average of $26,714 for your degree, you’ll likely pay closer to $36,411. It’s all about dollars and cents—or, in this case, dollars and sense.
The takeaway? Going to college is expensive, so if you want to start at a two-year school to save money, make sure you choose your coursework wisely.
When it comes to deciding between on-campus learning and an online degree program, the college option you choose will likely be based on your career goals, ideal lifestyle, and personal preferences.
For example, people who want a fully immersive college experience that has a strong social component may decide that living on campus works best for them. On the other hand, people who prefer to learn at their own pace and from the comfort of their living room, the local coffee shop, or a beach cabana in Cabo San Lucas may feel that online learning better aligns with their lifestyle.
Both options have pros and cons.
If you’re currently weighing the two options, take some time to list out your priorities. Do you prefer in-person lectures, or would you rather to study at your own pace? Do you have the ability to carve out time to drive to (or live on) campus and attend classes, or do you need the additional flexibility that comes with being able to stream lectures (and complete assignments) on your own schedule?
Online degree programs were growing increasingly popular long before the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, a 2020 report by Aslanian Market Research and Wiley Education Services found that 78% of students who had taken in-person and online courses felt their online experience was as good as if not better than in-person learning. Seventy-nine percent of students who had earned a degree online agreed or strongly agreed that the cost was worth it. In addition to having access to multimedia content, video lectures, and/or podcasts, online students have the flexibility to learn when, where, and how they want.
If you’re taking courses to advance your career, an online degree program allows you to apply what you’re learning as you’re learning it. Plus, when you take online courses, you won’t need to worry about attending early-morning or midday lectures. You can study at lunch, stream lecture material during your commute, and complete your coursework on your own schedule. (Fact: studies have shown that the majority of full-time college students work between 15 and 35 hours per week.)
Do you want to further your education without being confined to a classroom? If so, online college might be right for you. Why? Online degree programs allow students to study from anywhere they have access to a Wi-Fi connection. You can learn from the porch of your family’s vacation home, complete assignments in an airport lounge, or stream lectures from a rooftop café in France.
If you have an idea for a product or service and want to launch your enterprise now, enrolling in an online degree program has its benefits. You can apply what you’re learning to your day-to-day operations, and you’ll have the opportunity to grow your personal and professional network. There’s an old saying about success in business: “It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know.” Completing an online degree while launching a business can help you feed both birds with one seed: it can help you expand your knowledge and your business contacts at the same time.
Like we said earlier, when it comes exploring college options, it’s not about picking the best college. It’s about picking the best college for you.
Are you ready to start learning on your own terms? Learn how Pearson Accelerated Pathways gives students the flexibility to choose their college experience.
Like this post? Try out these other recommended readings: How Does Financial Aid Work? Student Loan Debt: The Realities, The Consequences, and How It Will Affect You How to Make Friends as an Online College Student
Mariel is a writer, content strategist and marketer. Besides educational topics, she's also covered content on consumer trends, healthcare and wellness. Mariel has a knack for booking cheap travel and when she's not working, you just might find her searching for the best flights to Europe.