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Does It Matter Where You Go to College: Online or Physical?

Updated: June 19, 2024 | Published: May 15, 2019

Updated: June 19, 2024

Published: May 15, 2019

Does it matter

One of the most significant life choices you can make is deciding how to pursue a college education. Deciding where to go to college can be confusing with increasing tuition fees and employment competition. But does it matter where you go to college?

Are traditional colleges more marketable than international online courses, or is it the other way around? The truth is that both options have their unique advantages and disadvantages. 

Let’s go over the pros and cons of traditional colleges versus online courses. It will help you determine if it matters what college you go to. Ultimately, this is a guide to help you make the right decision for your education and career. 

How Was It Before Online Colleges?

Before the internet was widely available, traditional college was the only option. You had to attend a physical campus and often pay thousands of dollars for tuition fees. It could be a huge financial burden for those who don’t get scholarships or grants.

Forbes reports that the average college program accrues a student loan debt of $10,740, excluding costs like accommodation, textbooks, and transportation. These costs can add up quickly, making a college degree unaffordable to many individuals. 

According to the White House, the cost of a four-year degree at a public university is above $22,000.

Admission to the most desirable and reputable colleges is highly competitive. You must have a stellar GPA and extracurriculars to be considered for admission. Even then, there’s no guarantee of being accepted.

For example, Ivy League colleges accept less than 10% of applicants for admission. The competition is even more intense for those trying to get into professional programs, like surgical training or law school.

Source: Unsplash

The Prestigious Days of Traditional College

Unfortunately, tertiary education has always been largely inaccessible. Many prospective students have to forego college because of the prohibitive costs or the lack of acceptance into a reputable university.

Traditional colleges hold prestige and recognition in society, and students graduating from these institutions are highly sought after. Even employers have previously recognized and preferred candidates who graduated from prestigious colleges.

Correlation is not causation, and the reason employers pay employees from the most competitive colleges the highest rates is not only because of the quality of their education but also due to their professional networking.

Online Learning Closing the Higher Education Gap

According to UNESCO, higher education is a right that should be accessible to everyone regardless of their financial situation. UNESCO approximates that only 38% of the world has access to university education, and with mounting tuition costs, this number isn’t likely to increase anytime soon.

Digital infrastructure has surged in recent years, and with that, the opportunity to attend college online has become increasingly accessible. The resistance to change, despite the potential benefits, has been strong in the education sector.

However, with the emergence of online education platforms, a new level of access to tertiary education has become possible. Many accredited online courses are offered for free or at a low cost. Also, these courses can be taken from anywhere globally if you have an internet connection. 

For example, the University of the People offers tuition-free online degrees for students who cannot attend college in person.

The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) has recognized and accredited various online colleges. International online universities like the University of the People have also gained accreditation.

Does the College You Go to Matter?

The college you go to matters because different colleges offer varying education standards. It also depends on the discipline and niche the prospective student intends to pursue.

For example, a surgical medicine student will have better luck gaining admission to top medical schools. Medical training is intensive and hands-on, so the reputation of medical schools matters more than other disciplines.

Moreover, it’s almost impractical to train medical doctors online as some skills must be learned practically.

In contrast, students of law, history, and English don’t necessarily need to attend a traditional college in person. The knowledge required for these disciplines is objective rather than practical and can be obtained online.

However, online learning is still novel, and graduates from prestigious law schools or faculties of economics are likely to catch the eye of employers more easily than those from less reputable institutions.

Such human resource heuristics in most companies need to be addressed to make a fair and equal playing field for prospective students. Moreover, smaller classes and online facilities offer more attention to individual students, fostering a more personalized and active learning experience.

Advantages of Traditional Colleges

1.   Networking

Brick-and-mortar universities offer students the opportunity to network with other like-minded individuals and industry professionals. These networking opportunities can open doors for internships, jobs, and additional learning experiences that online courses cannot provide.

2.   Campus life

On-campus university life provides a certain level of camaraderie and friendship among students that can be difficult to find in the online space.

3.   Hands-on learning

Some disciplines require practical skills best learned through hands-on experience and practice. Traditional colleges offer more opportunities for physical and interactive learning experiences and access to high-end equipment that may not be available in homes or online courses.

Advantages of Online Colleges

1.   Flexibility

Online learning offers flexibility in terms of time, place, and pace. Students can log in and access lectures, materials, and activities at any time, anywhere.

2.   Cost

Online courses often offer lower tuition fees than their traditional counterparts. The University of the People offers tuition-free online degrees, meaning you only pay attention.

3.   Accreditation

Having an online degree from a reputable online university can be just as beneficial as having one from a traditional college. The Distance Education Accrediting Commission (DEAC) accredits diverse online education programs that meet the same standards as traditional colleges.

4.   High Acceptance Rate

Online colleges often have high acceptance rates, meaning more students can gain admission and pursue a degree of their choice. The UoPeople partners with the United Nations and other reputable organizations, helping to identify and recruit low-income students with high potential.

Source: Unsplash

What Matters in Higher Education

College degrees are significant investments: time, hopes, dreams, and money. Graduating will always feel gratifying as the right degree can open the doors to a successful career and bright future.

Still, higher education is not only about the degree but also about learning and honing essential skills like critical thinking, problem-solving, communication, research, and innovation. 

What matters more than the college you attend is the quality of learning and training you receive. At the University of the People, we strive to provide quality education and real-world skills. 

Our online approach to higher education promotes critical thinking, research, and global collaboration. UoPeople academic programs are accredited, tuition-free, and open to everyone with the ambition to grow.

At UoPeople, our blog writers are thinkers, researchers, and experts dedicated to curating articles relevant to our mission: making higher education accessible to everyone.