For most people, the decision to get a college education is, if you’ll pardon the expression, a “no-brainer.” A not-so-obvious decision is to whether to get your education in a traditional, on-campus setting, or — as is becoming more common — to get it online.

The purpose of this article is to examine the differences between traditional and online education in terms of cost, class schedule, classroom environment, social life, and job opportunities.


The primary financial advantage of online education is that it is typically less-expensive to obtain. Tuition is cheaper for online classes than it is for traditional classes, and by studying online you also save money on housing, transportation, and other fees. The primary advantage of traditional education is that despite its relative cost you are more likely to get a high-paying job than a graduate from an online university.

Thus, online education is less-expensive to obtain but traditional education may provide a bigger pay-out at the end. Please note that these are general differences and may vary greatly depending on the school and area of study.

Class Schedules and Classroom Environment

One of the great appeals of online education is its convenience. Online education allows you to customize your classes to fit within your lifestyle, while still maintaining a balance with your career, your family, and your social calendar. Traditional education, by contrast, revolves around a set schedule. Classes are held at specific times and vary semester to semester (or term to term, depending on the school), and attendance is mandatory. The set nature of traditional education can present challenges to students with families or work commitments.

That being said, traditional classes are more “hands-on” than online classes, which means they offer the kind of face-to-face contact with instructors and access to equipment that can greatly enhance the learning experience.

Social Life

One of the great strengths of traditional education is that it facilitates social interaction among students. In addition to classes and study groups, students are encouraged at traditional schools to network with each other through dorms, clubs, athletic events, and various other extracurricular activities.

Online education, by contrast, is much more limited in this respect. Students may correspond via email or participate in discussion boards for specific classes, but there is little, if any, face-to-face contact. On the other hand, for students more comfortable with this kind of social interaction, online education may be an ideal alternative.

Job Opportunities

The truth is that despite the growing credibility of online education, many employers still rank applicants with online degrees lower than those with traditional degrees. In other words, while an online degree will allow you apply for a job, it may put you lower in the “hire pile” than someone with a degree from a traditional school. The upshot is that if a job doesn’t work out, or you wish to change your career (as many people do) it is much quicker and less expensive to do it through online education.

In conclusion, when it comes to getting your education in a traditional classroom or getting it online, there is no clear-cut winner. Each has its strengths and each has its weaknesses. Each prospective student must weigh the options carefully based on personal preferences and professional goals. Just remember this: the choice between online and traditional is, ultimately, far less important than the choice to actually finish your college education — that’s the decision that really matters.

For more information on the education perspectives of potential employers, see "What's in a Name? Do Potential Employers Really Care Where You Went to School?". For more information on online education, see 7 Benefits of Online Education."


Kari Whitaker is a technical as well as creative writer. In addition to articles on education and careers, she also enjoys writing short stories, essays, and poetry.

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2 comments on “Online or Traditional: Which Is Right For You?

  • “The primary financial advantage of online education is that it is typically less-expensive to obtain.” I too was under the same impression, but there is a lot of argument to say that online courseware cost should be on par with the on site counterpart. Would be interested to know your thought.

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