Why Pursue an Online Education

An online education offers flexibility, allowing students to focus on other obligations such as career advancement, military duty, raising a family, or travel. Online students can pursue any level of study, from basic licensure to doctoral programs.

There are countless benefits to an online education, and this guide is designed for prospective students who want to learn more before applying and enrolling at online universities. Online colleges have something to offer to students from all walks of life.

According to the Online Learning Consortium, over 5.8 million students took at least one online course during the 2015 school year — 217,275 more than the prior year. As distance learning becomes more popular, the number and variety of programs available will continue to grow.

Blended Online Programs

Blended programs, which combine face-to-face instruction with online learning, are increasingly being integrated into online schools. The rise of the blended education format isn’t just reflected in course catalogs; it’s also shown in what the students themselves are demanding.

According to a 2015 survey from the Eduventures Annual Conference, students favor blended programs over campus-only or online-only formats. In 2013 alone, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that approximately 2.86 million students participated in blended studies programs.


By incorporating components of online and in-class learning, blended programs provide the best of both worlds. An online education offers convenience and reduces the frequency of commutes. Students who prefer face-to-face instruction but need to schedule class time around their daily commitments will find a blended system at online universities to be ideal.

Fully Online Programs

Both private colleges and public institutions are embracing online degree programs. This allows students to earn all post-secondary degrees — associate, bachelor’s, master’s, and doctorate — from the comfort of their own home.

Fully online colleges offer the most flexibility, since the majority of students’ education takes place through chat rooms, discussions boards, email, and site-specific resources. This makes it an appealing format for full-time workers, stay-at-home parents, and military service members.

Attending online schools may also be desirable for students physically unable to commute to campuses due to chronic illness, rural housing locations, or jobs that require continual travel.

Online courses are just as rigorous as traditional classes, if not more so. Online students dedicate an average of 15 to 20 hours each week to complete coursework.

Necessary time commitments will of course vary based on the level of degree pursued. Graduate students, for instance, will invest a great deal of time on top of their coursework to complete degree capstones like a thesis or a dissertation.

Supplemental Online Programs

Online schools also offer professional certificates and continued education courses for adults who want to further their education but aren’t necessarily interested in working towards a four-year degree.

Professional certifications are a popular option for those working in accounting, financial services, healthcare, and technology, among other fields. Alternately, students who aren’t ready to invest in a full-time two- or four-year degree can complete a technical or vocational program in a matter of weeks and for a fraction of the cost.

According to a study from Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, “certificates are relatively cheap, can be completed quickly, sometimes lead to industry-certifications (occupational licensing), and are the fastest-growing post-secondary credential awarded over the past several decades.”

Selecting and Applying to Online Programs

While the admissions process may feel intimidating, the National Association for College Admission Counseling reports that 65% of students applying to four-year colleges are accepted. Of course, actual admission rates vary depending on the types of schools you apply to.

For example, Brown University only admits 8.7% of applicants, whereas Oklahoma State University admits 75%. Students able to apply to multiple schools should consider a mix of reach schools, schools they are sure to get in, and schools where admission could swing either way.

When doing side-by-side comparisons of programs, these tiers of easy, moderate, and difficult admission inform how you treat the pros and cons of each program.

Application Process

Fully online colleges either offer a semester schedule for applications or a rolling application. In the semester schedule, students typically apply between December and February for the upcoming Fall semester.

A rolling admissions school accepts applications throughout the year, and contacts you with a decision in the weeks after you’ve applied. The time frames vary, depending on how often online courses are held.

Consider limiting your focus to a handful of schools, so that you have enough time to complete each application as best as you can. Start early; the process can take quite a while, and you don’t want to realize you are missing supplemental materials right before a deadline.

First, create a calendar of your upcoming deadlines. Start on the applications that are due first and gather any information you’ll need before you start.

Checklist: Application Materials

  • Legal name, date of birth, and contact information
  • Citizenship status
  • Parent or guardian information
  • Educational history
  • SAT, ACT, or TOEFL scores
  • Hobbies
  • Honors
  • Volunteer work
  • Employment history

Take inventory of additional materials needed for all of your applications; the most time-consuming part of the application process is gathering these supplemental materials. The following are some common required documents you may need to prepare — keep in mind that you often need to obtain more than one copy of each:

  • Personal statement essay or writing sample
  • Two or more letters of recommendation
  • Official high school transcripts
  • Official copies of test scores


There are plenty of ways to fund your online degree if you learn that you or your family cannot. The optimal way to pay for school is through scholarships and grants, which do not need to be repaid. In the 2013-2014 school year, 83% of first-time, full-time students at four-year institutions received some kind of financial aid. The students who received various kinds of grants that year received an average of $3,464.

An estimated total $68 billion dollars in federal and private student loans was owed by bachelor’s degree graduates in 2015, more than 10 times the amount in 1994. Here’s a breakdown of the different types of financial aid options available to prospective students:

SCHOLARSHIPS AND GRANTSThese funding sources are available on national, state, community, and school levels. Generally, you face less competition by applying for local scholarships and grants. Databases like Fastweb and the U.S. Government’s Financial Aid website are great places to get started. In addition, veteransstudents with disabilities, and students of color also have unique scholarships available to them.
FEDERAL LOANSThe U.S. Department of Education lends funds to students on a subsidized or unsubsidized basis. Students must file a FAFSA every year to find out if they qualify for federal loans. Subsidized loans are particularly advantageous, because the Department of Education actually pays for your interest while you are enrolled in school. Students who receive unsubsidized loans are responsible for paying back interest at all times.
PRIVATE LOANSThis can be the most difficult way to fund your education, in that private loans often come with much higher interest rates than federal loans. Private loans do not adhere to the same student accommodations federal loans do. You might find yourself making payments on a private loan before you graduate. Additionally, you might not be able to defer private loan payments, which can be problematic if you are continuing your studies or are unable to meet your payments.



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