Choosing Between On-campus and Online Learning

There are a variety of factors that go into planning for your college education. Today’s advancements in digital and mobile technology have created a choice between two typical routes for higher education: on-campus and online learning.  Determining which of these types of learning environment best fits your schedule, personality, and preferences is helpful in making sure your experience is positive. So, what are the major differences between on-campus classes and online learning? And, what’s most important to you in your college and professional journey? Here are a few things to consider as you weigh your options.


As higher education costs continue to climb to astronomical heights in the U.S., it’s the perfect time to ask the question: Is attending college online cheaper than attending in person? In addition to comparing per credit hour costs, it’s worthwhile to look at associated fees with individual colleges and programs as they can vary significantly. Tuition for face to face classes typically include access to labs, classroom materials, and library resources but sometimes these fees are assessed as additional charges. Online classes may waive these fees since there is no physical meeting space and many make use of online materials. Other factors to consider are availability of scholarships, monthly payment programs, and financial aid. Understanding your financial capacity goes hand-in-hand with selecting a college for your higher education endeavors.

Scheduling, flexibility, and pacing

Classes at brick and mortar schools have set start and end times on a weekly basis, which may promote a steady routine and make for simple scheduling for some students. With online learning, students are able to schedule their classes based on the rest of their day, not the other way around. Online classes may require you to join during a scheduled time for chat rooms or elements of class participation, but in general your schedule is in your hands. Because of these factors, online college provides overall flexibility when it comes to balancing your personal and academic lives, and offers greater control over the pace you set for yourself. The pace for in-person classroom courses is driven by the instructor and class meeting times, with deadlines that may help students stay on track. Have the time and feel ultra-ambitious? If you’re taking an online course, materials are typically always available online, so you have full control of your learning speed.

Interactions with instructors/classmates

Do you prefer working alongside others or are you more successful working on your own? People who like a lot of interaction and group work may prefer face to face classes. Some students feel energized by being part of an academic group setting. Beyond office hours, campus-based institutions typically cannot offer 1-on-1 settings for instructional learning and discussions. Therefore, your interactions with your professor, teaching assistant, and classmates varies based on each person’s personality and daily accessibility. If you prefer to be on your own, online learning may better fit your preferences.  For online courses, you choose how and when to contact and interact with your instructor and/or peers. There is no pressure to feel a need to speak up in class, or opportunity to wonder about talking too often, because most of your communication with classmates happens through emails and online discussion forums.

Learning style

On-campus learning usually includes a combination of lectures and discussion meetings. Auditory learners may feel these environment better suit their needs. Beyond your actual classes, in-person courses may also have more opportunities for in-person presentations or group projects. Online classes ultimately come down to you and your course work, in a learning style that requires a different kind of self-discipline than face to face environments. Online learning programs often require more reading to do on your own. Online classes are using more video in recent years, so auditory learning options are increasing. Do you work well with technology and eReading? Do other people promote or inhibit your course work? It is important to determine what your ideal learning style and environment is before enrolling in any postsecondary classes.

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