Are Online Degrees Worth It?

Here are 8 questions to ask yourself before taking an online degree.

Never has there been a time to make a stronger case for an online degree. With education models varying around the world — with few actually hosting in person classes, anyway — COVID-19 has given this alternative education model it’s opportunity to shine.

Are online degrees worth it? Will they put you on the right path towards not only your academic goals, but to your bigger picture life goals, too? And even if you convince yourself that these are a worthy substitute, what will others (i.e. your future employers) think about online degrees?

Are online degrees respected?

Before you start your journey to formal online learning, ask yourself the following questions. Armed with your answers, you’ll be much more quick to know whether or not online degrees are worth it for YOU.

But first…

What do employers think of online degrees?

Employer’s opinions vary quite significantly across industries, size of businesses, fields of study, and more. As a relative newcomer to the world of education, this should come as no surprise. Whenever something this big comes along and shakes things up, there will always be residual skepticism and doubt.

But rather than look at this with defeat, consider this an opportunity.

YOU could be part of the first generation of changemakers with online degrees. YOU could show the private and public sector alike that a lot of learning can happen from the comfort of your own home (in your cutest jammies). YOU could revolutionize future learning opportunities for learners of all shapes, sizes, goals, and socioeconomic statuses.

US News shares a helpful list of 10 Things Employers Think About Your Online Degree, like:

  • Accreditation is particularly important. (More on this later)
  • Some employers prefer nonprofit over for-profit programs (Avoid University of Phoenix and Devry if you can…)
  • Many will respect your time management skills. (Wahoo!)

It’s up to YOU to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, and expertise to future employers, regardless if you have an online degree or not.

8 questions to ask about online degrees

1. Do you need a degree to get the job you want?

Not every career path or job opportunity requires a degree for eligibility. In fact, more and more companies are no longer requiring a degree at all — instead, they are leveling the playing field to open their hiring processes to those who didn’t have the time or money to earn a college degree.

If you’re targeting a specific position, career path, or company, do a deep dive into relevant job listings and suss out whether or not a degree falls under their “preferred” or “required” requirements.

2. Can having a degree improve your earning prospects?

According to a recent study from Georgetown University, college graduates, on average, earn approximately $1 million more dollars in earnings over the course of their career and lifetime. Pew Research Center says this ends up looking like a ~$17,500 annual differential between high school degree holders and college degree holders.

While an online education program is an investment — potentially a hefty one — you need to look at it like any other financial decision in your life. A likely prospect of increasing your salary with online learning might make the question “Are online degrees worth it?” easier to answer.

3. Can you cover the costs of your online program?

❌Student loan debt is not the jam ❌.

NerdWallet shares that the average student loan interest rate for undergradues is 2.75% for the 2020 – 2021 school year, and that that same rate for unsubsidized graduate student loans are even higher (up to 5.3%!). 

Yikes.

Those numbers might seem small at first glance, but trust us. They can add up quick — especially when you consider the fact that CSNBC reported that the typical repayment period for borrowers with $20-$40k in federal student loans is 20 years according to the US Department of Education. It can even last up to 21.1 years on average according to an institute in Wisconsin. 

Point taken: Investing in a degree program takes money. If you don’t have it now, or don’t believe it will give you a career that will help you increase your earnings, you might want to turn away now.

On the bright side, attending online schools will be cheaper than attending a typical brick and mortar institution. You will be automatically saving money on typical overhead costs like transportation, materials, or student activity fees common in on campus programs. Plus, living at home — or in a budget friendly apartment — rather than in college dorms can save you the big bucks over the years, especially if you’re not overly concerned about the name on your degree.

PRO TIP: Ask about financial aid and different loan packages to help you cover the up front costs of your online education program. This can make a world of difference — you might even be eligible for a scholarship! 

4. How will the online program help you determine and achieve your career goals?

One major perk of attending university is having access to a team of cheerleaders (advisors) that are dedicated to helping you reach your goals. Having a career coach, an academic counselor, and a group of professors readily available gives you more accountability, a broader network, AND more access to more opportunities.

For instance, I would’ve never known about the scholarship to study in China for a year — on the Chinese government’s dime, no less — if my 老师 (Chinese professor) hadn’t told me about it.

Will your online degree program give you just as much access to a support network as an online program? How will the program help you not only achieve — but determine — your personal, professional, and academic goals?

5. How many people finish the program successfully?

Since many online degree programs are new to the scene, this question may be harder to answer, but it is still worth asking.

The school’s answer will demonstrate their commitment to student success and how they strategize retaining distance students. Is it an afterthought? A full blown initiative? Something in between?

Understanding their average class size for introductory courses … and later for advanced courses… will give you a better sense of what to expect and whether the online degree will be worth it for you.

6. What do program alumni do?

Before you sign yes on the dotted line, take a look at what different program alumni have been up to since completing their online degree program. Did they get hired in a relevant job role right away? Did their job hunt take months and months? Did they give up to become a barista at the local coffee shop in town? Did they learn the cold, hard truth that a bachelors degree isn’t enough — they need more schooling to be taken seriously?

Get a feel for the paths alumni took after they turned their virtual tassels. This can help paint a clearer picture for you and your future from the on set.

7. Is the program accredited?

Please, please, please double check that the online degree program you are eyeing is accredited by an outside authority. This helps ensure that quality standards are met, and is a data point that many future employers fixate on when determining their personal stance on the legitimacy of your online program.

🙅‍♀️Avoid diploma mills at all costs. 🙅‍♀️These tend to be for-profit, cheap, quick, easy. And SCAMS. Get Educated shares a great list of ways to spot (and avoid) a diploma mill that is required reading for future online degree earners.

8. Is the online learning program the right fit?

We get it. It’s hard to look at a list of professors, and text books, and graduate stories, and alumni accomplishments, and get a true sense of what the program will be like. Will you like the pace of the program? Will the subject matter interest you? Are you passionate enough about the course content to stick it out for the long haul?

Before you sign up for any online degree programs, you need to do your best to assess how well the program fits into your goals. If you’re jazzed about a certain class or a potential project, that’s awesome! If you already have major reservations, what are you going to do when that big deadline sneaks up and you’re ultra-unmotivated to get anything done?

For students that work full time or part time, or desire to attend a college that is far away without having to pack up their life, all of these questions might come secondary to your need for flexibility — and that’s okay too.

Get as much information as you can from current and former students, then make a judgment call about whether or not the program is a good fit.

Are online degrees good?

It depends on the school – and the student.

Experts agree: Depending on the student circumstances, online degree programs are worth it.

Just like the quality of universities and colleges varies from institution to institution, so too does the quality of online degree programs. It is up to you to determine if a given opportunity will fulfill their — and your — objectives to a satisfactory degree.

And that’s just step one. The real secret for any academic pursuit is that the student, in this case, YOU, need to be fully committed. You have to show up for your online discussion boards. Fill out the surveys. Do the homework. Watch the videos. Complete the assignments. Without you giving it your all (or close to it), you will find your path towards a respectable online degree harder than it should be.

Are online degrees worth it? They absolutely can be — especially if you decide it will be.

FAQs

Are online degrees credible?

Online degrees are credible. Online degrees are becoming the norm, especially as the COVID-19 pandemic has thrusted distance learning into the dominant form of education rather than the oddity. You can find credible online degree programs by determining its accreditation, the graduation rate of the school, and whether or not a loan default is common from its students. These questions and more can help you avoid diploma mills and improve the respectability and credibility of your degree.

Is an online degree less valuable?

Online degrees are not less valuable than a degree taught in a more traditional education setting. Online degrees allow for high quality learning and academic pursuits while giving students flexibility over their time, location, and on campus commitments. Online learning has opened the door to tertiary education for more students than ever before, and tends to be a particularly great fit for working students and families. To make your online degree as valuable as possible to your future career and employment prospects, students should take advantage of every learning opportunity, assignment, and complementary activity.

Do employers care about online degrees?

Employers care about online degrees. More and more, employers are less concerned about where you earned your degree (or if you have a degree at all) and more about your skills, qualifications, and ability to get the job done. With an online degree instead of a traditional brick and mortar education, you might have to try harder to prove your skills and worth to the company. That being said, it is always a good idea to be motivated to demonstrate your value to future employers, regardless of what name is on your diploma.