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Are Online College Courses Worth It?

Taking college courses online can be worth it if you want to save money on your education and have a more flexible academic schedule.
A college student completing work in her online college course

You decided it’s time to earn your degree. You’ve considered the traditional approach that involves taking courses on a college campus, but perhaps you don’t have the time or interest in that type of education. You may have heard about taking courses online and have wondered: Are they worth it?

Online college courses allow you to complete your education and earn your degree entirely from your computer. You’ll create your own time to study and have the flexibility to balance life and school.

Here are some essential questions to help you decide if online courses are worth it.

Are Online Colleges Respected?

An icon of a graduation cap.If you're looking to take online courses, you might be wondering how potential employers will regard them on your resume. So, are online courses as respected as in-person courses?

In 2010, a CNN article reported that 83% of surveyed executives said an online education is just as credible as a campus-based education. Now, there's even more acceptance for online learning. According to Inside Higher Ed, the public's perception of online education has improved sharply since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when most college campuses temporarily closed.

What are Some Advantages of Taking Online Classes?

There are many advantages to taking online courses, and here are some important reasons online courses may be worth it for you:

▸ Accessibility

Robyn Roberts, a 2023 SNHU graduate with a bachelor’s in business administrationIf you travel frequently or live in a rural area, attending college in person might not be a viable option for you. Online college courses, on the other hand, allow you to learn wherever you are and wherever you go. All you need is a computer and an internet connection.

Take Robyn Roberts '23, for instance — a grandmother of 33 who owns a trucking business with her husband. She earned her bachelor's in business administration from Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) while traveling across the country.

"I did 90% of my studies from inside my semi-truck," Roberts said.

▸ Cost

One of the biggest misconceptions about online courses is that they are just as expensive as attending college in person. By taking classes online, you could save money on the additional expenses associated with traditional colleges, such as gas, room and board, and dining halls. Your tuition cost could also be more reasonable taking online courses at a nonprofit university, such as SNHU.

▸ Flexibility

Christopher McGinnis, a 2023 graduate from SNHU's master's in organizational leadershipOnline courses are flexible and versatile, providing the opportunity to get a degree at your own pace and do your coursework each week when it's most convenient. You can weave your academic schedule into your life in a way that works best for you.

Many online students take courses while working full-time or balancing responsibilities at home. Like Christopher McGinnis '23G, who earned a master's in organizational leadership online at SNHU.

"I work from home and have a family of four with a very active schedule," McGinnis said. "Being able to study and earn my degree online made it possible."

Find Your Program

What are Some of the Most Common Challenges for Students in Online Classes?

While there are several advantages to taking online college courses, you'll also want to be mindful of some challenges.

Here are a few common challenges for online learners and tips for overcoming them:

▸ Distractions

While distractions aren't exclusive to online college students, they can still affect them. Distractions could be anything, from phone notifications to the lure of the outdoors when you really need to focus on your schoolwork.

One way to overcome distractions is to stick to a schedule and manage your time well. If you’ve found yourself needing help, schools such as SNHU have academic advisors and peer tutors to support your educational success and assist you in overcoming potential hurdles, like managing distractions while you take notes and study.

▸ Motivation

Without having a physical classroom to be in or a set time to be somewhere, staying motivated to do your coursework comes down to discipline. Sometimes events also come up that can cause you to lose motivation, such as senioritis, which impacts students close to the end of their program and can cause them to become less consistent with studying and completing assignments.

One way to stay motivated is to focus on your personal growth and remind yourself of your “why.” Why are you attending school? Bringing this “why” to your attention can help re-light that fire that got you motivated to attend school in the first place.

▸ Engagement

An icon of a laptop with five bubbles stemming from a center bubble, indicating a network of connectionsOne of the most complex parts of online learning can be creating relationships with your instructors and classmates. Feeling connected with your peers can feel challenging when you aren’t able to see them face to face all the time.

Understanding and being aware of these challenges and ways to overcome them can set you up for success in the digital classroom.

Some college courses, such as you'd find at SNHU, have environments for you to discuss weekly topics in a collective space. These discussions boards are an ideal space for you to introduce yourself to your peers and build those connections remotely on a consistent basis.

How to Succeed in the Digital Classroom

How to Take an Online Class at SNHU

If you’re considering online classes, it helps to know what you can expect as an online student. For example, you'll be responsible for managing your own time. Without the scheduled hours in the classroom to study and get work done, you'll have to set aside time every week to focus on your studies.

Time management goes hand in hand with staying organized. Reading your course syllabus as soon as you can access it is a great way to get ahead and start planning your semester. You'll be able to identify the dates when big projects are due, so you can be sure to set additional time aside in advance.

Tatiana Toledo, a 2021 SNHU graduate with a bachelor's in sport management"Online learning requires a lot of self-discipline since you are learning from home," said Tatiana Toledo '21, who earned a sports management degree online at SNHU. "But my teachers were always an email or phone call away to help the class — or me, personally."

There isn't a "one size fits all" for success in online learning. Instead, you can develop a system designed for your preferences. Finding the best system for you may take some experimenting and trial and error, but eventually you can find the best practices to foster personal success.

Is Online the Right Option for You?

An icon of the globe with a yellow graduation cap resting on top of itOnline college courses offer flexibility to fit your life. Considering an online degree program that meets your individual needs can set you up for success. You'll want to investigate the various areas of study offered and the different degree programs available and find the one that'll help you achieve your goals.

Before fully committing to a college, you'll want to ask yourself important questions such as:

  • Will I be receiving a well-rounded and accredited education?
  • Will this school help me meet my educational and professional goals?
  • What resources and support does this school offer to enable my success?

Whether you're just starting or looking to go back to school, it’s important to consider what type of educational credential you are seeking. Educational credentials include:

Also, if you've already earned any college credits, you may be able to transfer those credits to reduce the time it'll take to complete your program. If you're ready to transition to an online degree program, your next step could be to work with an online admission counselor about getting started.

Once you know that the college you desire has everything you need to succeed, you're ready to take the leap forward with your online education.

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU online college degree that can best help you meet your goals.

Nicholas Patterson ’22 is a writer and alumnus of Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), where he earned his bachelor’s degree in English and creative writing. He is currently honing his craft further as he pursues an MFA in Creative Writing from SNHU. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

Two students walking in front of Monadnock Hall

SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.