Online colleges have become all the rage lately, and why not? They seem to let you get the same education you would get on-campus except from the comfort of your computer. But both of these educational formats have their pros and cons. But how do you know how to pick the right one for your particular situation?

In order to make the appropriate choice for you, you can ask yourself a few useful questions. For your convenience, we’ve included five of these questions below:

online course vs traditional courses1. When do you have free time?

One of the biggest factors in choosing which kind of education is right for you is time. Most on-campus courses will be held between 7 am and 10 pm and will require you to travel to certain locations for classes and other activities. Between work and other obligations, do you have free time during that window to attend classes?

For example, if you work two jobs and are occupied from 8 am to 9 pm, an on-campus program might not be an option for you. However, if you work a single job and it doesn’t start until 2 pm, you could realistically fit one or more classes into your morning schedule, assuming you live nearby a college or university.

Online programs can be a great option for people whose free times fall at odd hours or tend to fluctuate. Most online lectures can be viewed anytime of day via the internet. Assignments can usually be turned in according to the student’s timetable, given that they’re all submitted by the end of the course. This makes online programs much more flexible.

2. Are you a people person?

If you thrive in environments where you’re meeting and talking with people face to face, on-campus programs might be better for you. While advances have been made with internet technology that allow users to chat with instructors and others in real time and even talk with them over video, the online format can still feel too impersonal for some students.

Knowing which one of these groups you fall into can save you a lot of grief in the future. You last thing you want to have happen is for you to enroll in an online course and spend the money on tuition, only to find that you feel so disconnected from your instructor and your classmates that you’re not learning anything.

3. How are your time management skills?

On-campus course usually come with a syllabus that tells you exactly what your assignments will be for the term and when they will be due. This type of structure really appeals to some. With online courses comes flexibility on when you turn in assignments or take tests. However, the flexibility also requires students to be much better at managing their own time and assigning themselves deadlines without the assistance of a syllabus.

So how good are you at getting things done without someone feeding you deadlines? Everyone wants to say that they are self-managing–it’s the impressive thing to say. But you’ll want to honestly consider this question for yourself. There’s no shame in admitting that you need the extra structure of an on-campus course if it will improve the quality of your education.

4. How computer- or internet-savvy are you?

Obviously, you know how to use the internet, because you found this post. But online courses are more technologically intense than just surfing the Internet or logging into Facebook. They use video, chat, and other tools to simulate a classroom environment on your home computer. In some cases, you will be required to download files and install software on your computer. If you’re not comfortable with these types of tasks or simple troubleshooting on your computer, traditional on-campus courses may be better for you.

5. How far do you live from the nearest college or university?

One of the toughest aspects of on-campus courses is that you have to actually be there. If you live 50 miles from the nearest campus, then you will be in for 100-mile round-trip a few times a week.

Consider that you will need to make it to campus not just for classes, but to meet with study groups, instructors, and perform any other required activities outside of lectures. Do you live close enough to a campus that you drop by after work to meet with your professor? If you don’t feel so sure about your answer, on-campus courses just might not work with your situation.

In fact, online courses have risen in popularity in rural areas where prospective students live an hour or more from any kind of college. Online courses allow these students to give less time to traveling and more to learning.

Finally, with any of these questions, there may be the tendency to say, “Uh, if I really stretch, I think I could probably make it work.” When it comes to long-term decisions like these, however, you generally want to provide a buffer. Going to school is hard enough. Do not make any choice–online or on-campus–unless you are absolutely sure you can deliver and deliver well.

Are you considering going back to school? Are going on-campus or online? What influenced your decision? Please share in the comments below!

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