The incredible thing about education in the 21st century is the wide, wide array of options. Schooling used to mean sitting under a tree listening to your tutor, or walking fifteen miles in a snowstorm to a barn-like schoolhouse where you could expect a knuckle rapping for being late.
Now it can be anything from the traditional, picturesque New England campus to...well...your bedroom in your sweats lit by a glowing screen. In this day and age, graduate school can truly be customized to suit your needs. When choosing between campus culture and classrooms vs. online academia, its crucial to take into account both lifestyle and learning style.
In this article, two people who have experienced both virtual and physical campuses weigh in on the benefits of online school for unconventional, self-motivated students.
Jenn Blevins Silbermann obtained her undergraduate degree on a real, live campus, and her master’s on a virtual one.
Brad Graham has exclusively attended a ground school, and is a former academic advisor for online Westwood College.
Both Silbermann and Graham emphasize the usefulness of online schools when it comes to unconventional students - who are, in fact, becoming more and more conventional. Not all incoming students are willing or able to relocate.
Silbermann, who was living in the wild mountains of Colorado, explained, “I was working in a place where there were no programs available at a campus. I would have had to move to be part of an on campus program or commute almost 2 hours each way. That was not something I wasn't interested in doing, so online was my best choice.”
Graham elaborates, “Two things that hold people back from jumping into graduate school are time and money. For those who missed the supposed “window-of-opportunity” to attain their master’s degree, many for-profit institutions have risen to offer students the opportunity to take online master's programs.” Got a full-time job? A couple of kids to raise? Fitting classes held in actual classrooms into your busy schedule is probably the last thing you need to worry about.
Be aware, though, that online study is not an easy alternative. It’s the best fit for highly linguistic, highly self-driven learners, although that’s not to say that other types of students can’t succeed.
“You have to be accountable for deadlines and learning the material completely on your own…There is no lecture, class, or any time that you have to be present to learn the material,” cautions Silbermann, adding “I liked online learning for this reason. I could find time in my own schedule for the learning and projects.”
Prior to choosing a school, Graham suggests “finding out what type of learner you are. Obviously, if you are a hands-on learner, online school might not be a great fit for you. To find out what type of learner you are, most states offer free or low cost testing at workforce centers (a.k.a. the old unemployment office) across the country.” He also suggests exploring Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences Inventory, which can reveal to you your learning style.
Finally, don’t forget to do some research into your school’s licensing and accreditation, as well as its reputation. “Do your homework,” says Graham. “Remember that just as in traditional colleges, online institutions have reputations and the weight of their degrees may come into play from employer to employer.”