Is Online or Traditional College Harder and Why

The number of online students continues to grow per year for the past few years. It can be tempting to jump on the bandwagon. However, you fear that earning a degree via the web may not be right for you.

Online college may be difficult for students with wrong expectations about online learning, tech-related troubles or preference for traditional school. On the other hand, it may be easy for working adults and those who prefer being alone. Both online and traditional degrees, however, need hard work.

Below, you will come across some of the things you need to know about online college before you apply to one. They include why it’s suitable for some but not for others, as well as some complications one may encounter.

Factors that Affect Online College Experience

Just because one student finds online college easy doesn’t mean that the experience will be the same for another student. Like many things in life, getting an online degree can be subjective. This means that it can be influenced by a student’s personal tastes, preferences and opinions.

Online college can be either easy or difficult. It all depends on the student undergoing it.

Below are some of the factors that can affect the overall experience of attending an online school. Knowing some of them can help you know if you will have trouble-free or complicated online learning.

Program or Major

All college degrees come with their own set of challenges. However, some majors tend to come with more hurdles students will have to overcome to complete them.

Some of the most difficult majors are those that have numbers and computations. A few common examples include physics, chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering, mechanical engineering and architecture.

The good news is that there is a long list of the easiest majors. The likes of education and psychology tend to spearhead it.

Still, a major’s difficulty is subjective. For instance, engineering programs may be hard for those who hate math. On the other hand, it may be easy for those who eat, breathe and sleep math.

Classes: synchronous vs. asynchronous

online college

Online classes can be divided into two broad categories.

First, there’s synchronous.

This refers to a class where the students and professors are online at the same time. Needless to say, for everyone to be able to participate in real-time, the date and time are set in advance.

A synchronous class allows you to enjoy the closest thing to attending a traditional class. It’s because there’s interaction with one another.

Second, there’s asynchronous.

It’s the complete opposite of a synchronous class — you can go online at any time you like. What’s more, there are no classmates and professors to interact with.

Do you want to finish a bachelor’s degree in less than four years or over four years because you’re too busy? Then this is the right type of online class for you.

Besides synchronous and asynchronous classes, there’s also blended classes.

Also sometimes referred to as “hybrid classes”, blended classes combine online and in-person classes. So, in other words, sometimes you will have to step foot inside a physical classroom, while other times you will have to sit before a computer in the privacy of your home.

Blended classes are perfect for students who would like to enjoy the perks of online and traditional learning. Alas, blended classes are not offered by all online schools. Likewise, they are not available for all programs.

Type of student

Anyone with a high school diploma (or, in some cases, an equivalent like the GED) and would like to earn a degree may enroll at online schools. However, not all students eligible to go to college will find postsecondary education via the internet ideal for them.

It’s for this reason why online college is more appealing to working adults. In fact, 51% of undergraduate online students and 70% of graduate online students have full-time jobs.

Over 40% of online students at all program levels, on the other hand, are parents.

While adults busy with their careers or kids will appreciate the convenience that online learning brings, students who are fresh out of high school may find going to an online school a disadvantage.

This is so true for those excited to experience the glitz and glamor of traditional schools. They include clubs, parties, fraternities and sororities, etc. There are blended classes that some schools offer alright. However, they cannot offer fun- and excitement-seeking students the whole shebang.


Are you excited to enroll online because you heard from someone or somewhere that earning an online degree is quick and effortless? Perhaps what you have in mind is a diploma mill and not an online college.

A diploma mill will hand you a degree in exchange for your money.

There’s no educational investment involved whatsoever. Unlike a legit college or university offering classes via the internet, a diploma mill is not accredited by a legit accrediting body. So, in other words, the degrees it offers are meaningless. Therefore, employers do not respect them.

Online college can be challenging for students who think that it’s a quick way to get a degree.

Most traditional bachelor’s degree programs require 120 hours of study, which can be completed in four years. The majority of online bachelor’s degree programs also require students to complete the same number of credits to graduate from college. It’s just that they can choose how quick or how long they would like to complete the program.

You might find online college tiring and exhausting if you were led to believe that it’s a shortcut. An online degree is something that won’t appear in front of you all of a sudden. You will still have to work hard for it. It more or less requires the same amount of effort as earning a traditional degree.

Related Post: Do Employers Accept Online Degrees?

Academic experience

More and more students are discovering the many benefits of earning a degree online. As a matter of fact, more than 30% of students in the US are enrolled in at least one online program.

However, the sudden shift from traditional learning to online learning may astound some students. This is most true for those used to being in physical classrooms with other students.

Some online classes take place in real-time via video conferencing alright. However, they do not offer the same experience as in-person classes.

If you are an extrovert and find it hard to stay motivated — we will talk more about this in a few, so keep on reading — to study in the quietness of your home, you may find completing your online program difficult.

Are you attending a traditional school now and planning to transfer to an online counterpart to save money or get a job?

Then you may find the first few weeks or months of online learning daunting. But hang in there. That’s because you will begin to enjoy the many pluses of getting a degree online once you get the hang of things.

Common Challenges and Problems with Online Education

Many things can make going to an online college easy and convenient for some people.

online education

However, there are also hindrances online learners have to face all the time or every once in a while. Some or all of them can intimidate students who are not suited to earn degrees via the internet.

Do you plan to enroll online because you have heard over and over again that it makes being a degree holder so much easier? Then you will be in for one of the biggest surprises of your life. There’s a wide assortment of trials and tribulations that online students have to go through.

Let’s take a look at some of the most common ones:

Technical issues

Without a doubt, a computer is the most important item that any student attending an online college should own. Having no computer is like going to a traditional class without a notebook and a pen.

It’s true that today’s computers are capable of carrying out all sorts of tasks at blinding speeds.

However, they are not impervious to acting up. Many things with your computer can happen when you least expect them. Some common examples are not starting up, booting up again and again, a blank screen, strange noises and slow processing.

They can show up when there’s a real-time discussion to attend to, a report to submit, a new material to read, or an important video conference with a professor.

Encountering a technical problem can have a massive impact on your online learning. This is true if you have no computer troubleshooting skills or cannot take your device to a reputable technician right away. This can wreak havoc on your day unless you are taking a self-paced program, and making up another day is always possible.

Any problem with your computer’s peripheral devices can keep you from enjoying a smooth-sailing day, too. An example is a mouse that refuses to do its job or a Bluetooth headset that doesn’t want to cooperate.

Besides the students, the professors can also encounter glitches in their computers and accessories. This is why it’s a good idea to enroll at a reputable online school where the professors are using top-of-the-line devices. You will appreciate this more if you are taking synchronous online classes.

Solution: It’s a good idea to invest in a trusted brand of computer whose specifications are suited for the rigors of online learning. Having some troubleshooting or DIY computer repair skills is a fantastic idea. You can take advantage of your know-how while studying online and in many other instances.

Digital illiteracy

It’s not uncommon for students used to traditional learning to feel overwhelmed and anxious when they switch to online learning. This is most true for those with very little to no experience with computers and program tools.

The good news is that you don’t have to be a computer whiz to earn an online degree.

Having basic computer skills is often more than enough. However, it’s a must to add a few more essential skills to your arsenal.

Some examples include printing documents, attaching an external hard drive, and installing software programs and peripheral devices like a webcam or graphic table. It all depends on your course.

Otherwise, the pressure of trying to learn how to use a computer and basic software tools can get in the way of your coursework. Needless to say, it can make attending an online college more grueling than it really is.

It’s a good thing that most online schools have tech support that the students can count on.

Because of this, one of the things that you should look for when applying to an online school is the availability of a technical support team. Having one is not enough. It’s also a definite must for the school to guarantee support on a 24/7 basis, since tech-related issues can strike at any given time or day.

Solution: Are you tech-illiterate, and studying online is the only option? Then it’s a good idea to get to know how to use a computer more before you apply to an online school. Practice composing an essay using a word processor, chatting with family and friends using a webcam, uploading and downloading files, etc.

Internet connectivity issues

Refrain from assuming that there was no distance learning before the internet came into being.

In the past, distance learning, which came into being in the mid-1800s when the US Postal Service was developed, was carried out via mail. Needless to say, distance learning underwent a facelift in the late 1900s, the time when the internet became mainstream.

Having an internet connection at home is of utmost importance for anyone enrolled online. Often, it’s not enough for the internet to be around. There has to be a strong and stable internet connection.

However, it doesn’t mean that you cannot earn a degree online without home internet.

Public libraries, bookstores, coffee shops, restaurants — these and a few other establishments offer internet access.

Heading to any one of them will allow you to conduct online learning alright. However, completing an online program can become more convenient and time-saving with an internet connection at home.

But even if you have your own internet, you may still fail to enjoy smooth-sailing online learning if your internet service provider has lousy service.

Solution: Investing in an internet connection offered by a reliable internet service provider is a good idea. This is true if you would like to earn your degree faster than everyone else and with little to no hitch. Besides, if you plan to work from home or run an online business after graduating, having a dependable internet connection is a must.

Lack of motivation

Besides some technology-related holdups, there are other things that can make getting an online degree challenging and problematic for certain people.

Some of these setbacks can come from within them, such as motivational issues.

When you are studying online, you are on your own. It’s true that some online schools or online programs will require the students to engage with one another in real-time via the internet. However, when video conferencing comes to an end, you are once again alone in your quest to finish the program.

This is when the importance of staying motivated comes in.

Many online students admit to having very little to no motivation due to a lack of structure that a traditional classroom offers. The absence of a designated work area and the presence of distractions in their homes only add to the challenge of maintaining the drive to attend online classes and do their homework.

Are you enrolled in asynchronous learning? Then you might have a problem completing your program on or ahead of time if you find it difficult to stay motivated.

Solution: Consider having a designated online learning area. The quieter and lesser traffic, the better. It’s also a good idea to set up a schedule and stick to it. This is true if you are enrolled in a self-paced program. Grab every opportunity to interact with your online classmates as camaraderie is a major motivational factor.

Poor time management

Speaking of setting up a schedule, it’s of utmost importance that you budget your time very well when earning a degree online. Because you are in control of your own learning and pace, you have tons of power in your hands. Alas, having that much power is the downfall of many online students.

One of the primary reasons why some people choose to earn a degree online rather than through the traditional fashion is that they have a lot on their plate.

It’s true that multitasking will allow you to finish your online program and carry out all sorts of everyday tasks at the same time. However, it’s very much possible for one chore to be compromised. And that chore could be your studies. It’s because of this why devoting time to your online learning and daily duties and responsibilities separately is a must.

Many perks come with online learning. But in exchange for those are some skills you will have to develop or sharpen. And one of those is time management.

Establishing good time management is good not only for your quest to get your hands on an online degree. It’s also great for making you more productive and efficient both at work and in your personal life. It’s because it enables you to use your time the right way. Since you know you are in control, it can help fend off unnecessary stress and pressure.

Solution: Dealing with poor time management is similar to dealing with a lack of motivation. However, there is one important step that you will have to take if you want to have enough time for online learning and plenty more for your other activities. And it’s none other than careful planning. For effective time management, know your priorities.

Just Before You Apply to an Online College

Online college offers perks that traditional learning doesn’t. However, it doesn’t mean that every student will benefit from those. Some may find earning a degree via the internet easier alright. On the other hand, the rest may find it more difficult than earning it in a customary manner.

Above, we talked about some of the things that can affect the online college experience. We also discussed some of the problems online students may encounter.

It’s up to you to decide whether attending an online school or a traditional one is right for you. However, no matter your choice, the fact remains that you will have to work hard and stay committed to earn your degree.

Related Post: How to Choose a Perfect Online College

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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