Applying to Online Graduate Programs
The advances and advantages of online grad programs
By Sarah Fudin
Published April 13, 2012
For potential applicants, a new generation of online programs make graduate education more accessible but no less rigorous than on-campus programs. For the first time, some of the nation’s most highly ranked graduate schools have begun using recent advances in technology to offer the same programs available on their physical campuses over the internet. These programs offer many advantages: eliminating commutes, allowing greater flexibility in scheduling and assembling cohorts from students located all over the globe. But online education also places different demands on the student than a traditional graduate program, requiring greater discipline and organizational abilities.
Advances in Online Education
While online graduate schools were once considered a cheaper, easier alternative to traditional education, top-tier schools have used recent advances in technology to close the gap. The new generation of online graduate schools uses video-conferencing and social networking technology to deliver world-class graduate curricula to students all over the world. Small discussion-based classes are lead by the same faculty who teach on the institution’s physical campus. Students collaborate on projects across continents and time zones. And many programs include periodic residencies, where students meet face-to-face for experiential learning, team-building exercises and networking events.
Advantages of Online Education
Requirements for admission and graduation at the best online programs are just as rigorous as the requirements for those at more traditional programs, but online study makes graduate education accessible to many people who would otherwise be unable to earn an advanced degree. Students in remote locations, busy professionals with family obligations and those who travel too frequently to attend regular classes can all participate in online education. The presence of these diverse individuals in the cohort also enriches the educational experience itself; how else can you hold a class on international relations with students residing on different continents?
Who Succeeds in Online Education
The freedom and flexibility offered by online education makes graduate degrees accessible to a wide variety of people, but those who earn the degrees and benefit most from the experience share certain qualities. Logging in to class, collaborating with remote classmates and completing assignments on time requires a high level of discipline and organizational ability on the part of students. And while the technologies these programs use closely resemble familiar tools, like Skype and Facebook, they do require a degree of comfort with, and enthusiasm for, virtual social engagement. The successful online student is a disciplined, organized individual with strong communications techniques and a genuine desire to learn online.
Online education offers an exciting alternative to traditional graduate programs for the right kind of student. By making rigorous, high-quality graduate education more flexible and accessible than ever before, more students are being given the opportunity to earn advanced degrees. And while advances in technology have made this possible, the academic programs being offered have already established themselves as among the nation’s best.
Now it’s up to you to decide: Is an online graduate degree right for you?
Sarah Fudin currently works in community relations for the University of Southern California's Master of Arts in Teaching program, which provides aspiring teachers the opportunity to earn a Masters in teaching and teacher certification online. Outside of work Sarah enjoys running, reading and Pinkberry frozen yogurt.