The Pros and Cons of Going to College Online

Young woman studying online at home

Are you wondering, Can I do college online? Going to college online is not only possible but quite popular. In 2021, the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reported that 61% of students took at least one remote learning course and 28% of students accessed higher education online.1

Is online college a good idea for you? Explore some of the pros and cons of online colleges below, and then consider discussing the idea of online education with your parents or legal guardians.

In This Article: 

Can I Do College Online?

Before diving into the pros and cons of online colleges, you’ll need to determine if it’s possible for you to earn a degree online. There are three basic delivery models for higher education:

  • Fully online degree programs
  • Hybrid online/on-campus degree programs
  • On-campus degree programs

If you already know which type of degree you’d like to earn, you can begin researching schools to determine if there is an online program available. Even if you aren’t quite sure about your specific degree choice yet, you may have a field in mind.

Some fields of study lend themselves well to an online learning format. Other degrees may require an in-person presence due to the necessity of completing labs and other experiential learning components. These typically include STEM fields, such as nursing, chemistry and engineering. In some cases, however, these degree programs may be available in a hybrid online/on-campus format.

If it is likely that you can earn your degree entirely or partially online, you’ll then need to ask yourself, Is online college a good idea for me, given my learning style and self-discipline? We’ll take a closer look at this question as we explore the pros and cons of online colleges below.

Pros and Cons of Online Colleges

Going to college online can offer many benefits, such as greater convenience and the lack of a commute. Plus, if you choose a fully online degree program, you can work through the curriculum from virtually anywhere; there is no need to relocate to be closer to the campus.

However, before you fill out the application, you should weigh those benefits against the potential drawbacks, such as the need to be self-disciplined and hold yourself accountable for completing the work.

Pro: Online College Offers Convenience and Flexibility 

Convenience and flexibility are certainly attractive attributes of online degree programs. When going to college online, you’ll be able to work through the material regardless of geographic location — provided you have a stable internet connection. You won’t have to factor in commute time or the cost of transportation when considering the logistics of earning a degree.

Some online degree programs can offer more flexibility. An online program can work well for students with full-time jobs or significant family responsibility (e.g., caring for a critically ill parent or sibling).

However, not all degree programs are as flexible as others. Some programs require you to view online lectures (either at a scheduled time or within a certain period), complete assignments and take exams within deadlines. Even if a program requires the same deadlines and amount of work, some people find it more convenient and flexible than an on-campus program.

Con: The Need for Self-Driven Accountability

Although convenience and flexibility are great perks of going to college online, the potential drawback to that is the need to hold yourself accountable for completing the work. This is particularly true if you choose an online program. If you have trouble getting enough work done, it might take longer to earn your degree than if you were attending on-campus classes.

Give serious consideration to the question, Is online college a good idea for me, given my learning style and self-discipline? If you tend to procrastinate on responsibilities, then an in-person degree program may be a better fit.

Numerous online educational platforms provide collegiate-level courses that you can audit, allowing you to take a course for free without earning credit. If you're uncertain about your ability to stay disciplined and complete an online degree program, consider auditing a few courses to gauge your commitment to meeting deadlines and completing coursework. However, it's essential to note that a free, audited course might not entail the same workload as a for-credit college course within a degree program.

Pro: Going to College Online May Accommodate Work Obligations

Many students can devote themselves to four years of full-time study following high school — the typical time to earn a bachelor’s degree. However, some have other obligations that may not allow the addition of attending full-time school. Some students start families young, while others must find full-time employment to help support their parents and siblings.

If you need to hold down a full-time job while earning a degree, then going to college online may be an ideal solution.

Pro: An Online Degree Might Be More Affordable

In many cases, attending college online may cost less than attending classes on campus.2 However, this isn’t true in every situation, so it’s important to do your research.

Remember that even if the cost per credit of an online program is about the same as that of an on-campus program, you may save in other ways. You won’t have school-related transportation costs or parking fees, for example. In addition, you may also save money on room and board costs if you continue living at home with your parents or legal guardians.

Con: You May Regret Not Experiencing Campus Culture

Although it might be more affordable not to live on campus in some cases, the potential drawback is that you might miss out on the extracurricular events of life on campus. As a student on campus, you may have opportunities to participate in campus activities, such as clubs and intramurals that may not always be easily accessible to online students. When weighing your options, it’s important to note that higher education can be a learning experience beyond the curriculum taught in the classroom. Some use this opportunity to take their first major step toward independent adulthood and develop the beginnings of a professional network. 

Pro: You’ll Likely Access (Almost) Everything You Need Online

Lastly, another perk of going to college online is the convenience of having everything in one place. You’ll access your course materials entirely online, reach out to instructors and peers digitally on the discussion boards and access student support resources online. (Note that you might still be responsible for purchasing textbooks, software or other course requirements.)

Con: You’ll Be Heavily Reliant on Technology

The heavy reliance on technology can be a potential drawback to having everything (or almost everything) online. Expect to stare at a screen for many hours each week, sometimes leading to eye strain and poor posture. It’s a good idea to set up an ergonomic workspace, have good posture and look away from your screen occasionally.

Another issue to consider is that you’ll need to supply your own laptop and high-speed, reliable internet connection. If your laptop has technical problems, you’ll be responsible for getting it fixed promptly so that you don’t risk falling behind in class.

At Grand Canyon University, we’re proud to offer a range of online baccalaureate degree programs for students who crave greater convenience, flexibility and the ability to learn from anywhere. No matter how you earn your degree, you’ll have opportunities to prepare yourself for your future at GCU. Fill out the form on this page to learn more.

1 The National Center for Education Statistics (n.d.). Fast facts. The U.S. Department of Education. Retrieved Nov. 14, 2023. 

2 Hanson, M. (2023). Cost of Online Education vs. Traditional Education. Education Data Initiative. Retrieved Dec. 8, 2023. 

Approved by the assistant vice president of GCU Marketing on Dec. 13, 2023.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.