By Jenna Moede
As military spouses, we face even more difficult decisions about college than most people. Often times we have to make decisions not only based on where we currently live but also on where we could live.
This makes deciding on the right college even more difficult. And, we have to choose not just a school but whether to attend on campus or online.
I have attended college both on campus and online, and I want to share the good, the bad and the ugly of both choices.
I will start with campus since I started my undergraduate studies on campus. The campus really does have a host of benefits along with some drawbacks.
Focus tops my list of benefits for campus studying. I moved to Michigan so that I could attend the university and so I always focused on school. I worked part-time on campus so between classes, my job and campus life, college made up my whole existence.
It never felt difficult to put my studies first because even my job told me to bring my books and study in my down time. I never found it difficult to remember my schoolwork because my life revolved around college.
Additionally, campus offers easier access to social options. I easily met friends among my peers, and I could join clubs or meet people in my dorm with interests similar to mine. I even found some friends studying the same major.
Built-in study buddies came along with friends who shared the same major. I never had to dread studying because a lot of times we would do it together. We would turn the assignments or exams into group study sessions and have a ton of fun learning the material.
The last major advantage of classes on campus was the accessibility to professors, tutors and hands on learning.
If I ever needed to talk to a professor about anything, whether it be an exam, something I didn’t understand or a class I missed, I could easily find their office hours in the syllabus. During those times I could go to their office, have a conversation with them and have my problem worked out in a few minutes.
Additionally, I had a lot of friends that often utilized the free tutor centers scattered around campus. Just a few steps from where we lived we had access to free, quick and easy help. It made it really easy to understand some of the more complex topics taught in college classes.
Lastly, I could actually interact in my classes and ask questions in real time when I thought of them. I could listen to my professor explain calculus problems as many times as I needed, and I could mess up science experiments in person.
I did accidently set my paper on fire once while using a Bunsen burner. Needless to say I had a tough time convincing anyone to be my lab partner after that. Still, hands on experience helped grasp and understand new ideas and theories.
On the other hand, never having complete control over my schedule made campus difficult. On campus you have to take the classes you need on the days and times they are offered. There is no flexibility.
Sometimes, I would even have to overload my class schedule if I saw an opening in a class I knew I would need eventually. I had no guarantee that the classes I needed would have open spots at a time that I found convenient.
Having to schedule life around a class can cause problems especially if you want to hold a job. I worked on campus with the police academy luckily, but I had some friends that worked off campus, and they got either really early or really late shifts because of their class schedule.
When I started online classes, I really missed campus, but I found that being online had benefits too. Flexibility is a major benefit. There’s nothing like being able to take your classes in your pajamas and slippers. I loved knowing that I could complete the coursework whenever I had a chance, following deadlines of course.
I also loved that the classes were not only easier to schedule but also easier to get into. I didn’t usually have to worry about whether or not they would fill up before I could sign up.
I also liked that no matter what happened or where we might move, I would not have to transfer schools and I could take my college classes with me. I didn’t have to worry about applying to another university or trying to transfer credits. I could graduate from my chosen university no matter where we lived.
Discipline was the last perk. I learned a lot about self-motivation and I learned to be extremely self-reliant. Previously I always had people around me going through the exact same thing so doing it on my own challenged me, but I learned a lot about myself.
Even with all the benefits, online classes still didn’t give me the perfect experience. First, my college social circle definitely became smaller. Meeting people with my major and making and maintaining friendships online took a lot more time and effort. While each class did have forums and ways to communicate, I didn’t find it as fulfilling as face to face communication.
Communicating with professors online also held a unique set of challenges. While they still do have office hours, it never felt as quick and easy as communication in person. I couldn’t pop in their office for a quick second and pop back out with the information I needed. I started relying heavily on email and it became a great resource for me.
I also thought it seemed more difficult to maintain focus online. With a million things going on and working full-time, I had other priorities above school. As the only student, I didn’t want to sit down and do my schoolwork alone, and I always felt like I had more important things to do.
While I had a difficult time overcoming lack of focus, it ultimately led me to self-motivation and self-reliance so in the end, it turned out to be a perk in disguise.
Overall, there are so many differences and so many pros and cons to each college option that students needs to weigh. While I would never want to trade my experience on campus, I know that transferring to an online school provided me with the only way I could earn my degree. It allowed me to finish in my own time, in a new city, without losing time.