Myths persist about getting an online degree

3D rendering of virtual human silhouette on laptop screen.

If your New Year’s resolutions include starting or finishing a college degree, you may be considering online programs. You’re not alone. Online courses, certificates and degrees have proliferated over the last decade, and the pandemic has only added to the demand.

There’s much to love about earning your degree online, particularly if you can’t attend class in person as a working adult with professional and personal commitments. Online learning is typically more flexible and scalable than learning in person, and online learning platforms are increasingly easy to use, even if you’re not a technology whiz. (For more information, you may be interested in checking out our Ultimate Guide to Online Business Degrees.)

Yet myths persist about online degrees. Here I dispel a few of those misconceptions and share what to expect when learning online.

Myth #1: It’s easy

I earned a bachelor’s degree online in 2016 as a returning adult student and can tell you that an online program requires just as much work as an in-person program, if not more. In order to keep up with the work, I had to be more organized and proactive in communicating with my professors than I would have had I attended in person. Because there was no set class schedule, I had to be especially disciplined, planning time to watch lectures and complete homework — all while managing everything else in my life.

Myth #2: It’s not reputable

Online programs offered by accredited colleges and universities meet the same standards and requirements as their in-person counterparts. (To find out if an institution is accredited, visit the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or the U.S. Department of Education.) At UW–Madison Online and many other institutions, online courses are taught by the same instructors who teach in person, with the same content, rigor and expectations.

Myth #3: I won’t have the same opportunities and support

As more degrees have gone online, so has the ingenuity of colleges and universities in ensuring that virtual students have access to the resources they need to succeed. Online chats and discussions with classmates and professors offer opportunities to connect around course content, while libraries, writing centers, advising services and other campus resources offer virtual support for academic and other needs.

Myth #4. It isn’t respected by employers

Most institutions do not indicate that your degree was earned online, so there’s a good chance your employer won’t know either. Like an in-person degree, an online degree signals to employers that you are interested in building knowledge and that you’ve put in the hard work to do so. Many employers are even willing to pay for their employees to earn degrees or take courses online while they continue to work. Employers understand that online education is a boon to their employees — and to their business.

With some organization, flexibility and self-discipline, you can make an online degree program work for you in 2022!

Anne Niendorf is a student services coordinator with UW–Madison Continuing Studies. She can be reached at anne.niendorf@wisc.edu. This article first appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal on January 9, 2022.