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With the increasing number of online degree programs being offered as extensions and alternatives to the traditional college setting, future students are left with a decision to make – online or on campus? There are a number of deciding factor,s such as cost, whether you have other responsibilities such as children or a full time job, or being a few years older than the traditional college-age student. However, there is also the academic side of the question, meaning what is the best situation based on your personal and academic goals? And what type of learning style is best for you to maximize your education? So here are a few guidelines that you can consider when making your decision.

Independently Motivated
The person who can motivate themselves and is more likely to find solutions to problems without direction is more likely to be a successful online student. This is a matter of personal assessment rather than taking some kind of measurement test or psychological exam. Seeing a problem to solve and acting on that rather than being told to do something is a good indicator of self-motivation. Sometimes motivation comes out of curiosity, such as when you wonder how something works or why don’t they do it differently. In either case, acting on what you see is a measurement of how you will approach problems in an academic online environment.

Practical
This means being practical for your chosen major. A biology major would have a tough time getting any real learning from an online course, while a philosophy major may actually benefit more from an online degree. Of course, there are the limitations the university may also put on your degree program of choice to consider.

The Teacher Void
The issue here is whether a person is a better student if a teacher is physically present. In online classes there will be a teacher and they will be available to answer your questions. But some people simply learn better when a teacher is physically present. In a normal college routine, there is a time when class starts, group interaction and collaboration, and exams that take place within a specific timeframe. To require these things to learn better is not a personality or character flaw, just a matter of personal preference. Since you will be paying tuition in either case, the best approach is where you will maximize the benefit you get for the dollars spent.

Age

Most undergraduates will be between the ages of 18 and 25, though I have known some mid 20-somethings that felt uncomfortable mixing with the younger group. If you’re over 30, strongly consider an online course over the more traditional approach. There are many reasons, but the biggest one is that there is a cultural divide age-wise that will have you feeling much older than you really are. While most students will not outright reject being with you, there is a sense of distance because you don’t listen to the same music or have the same worldview as your younger counterparts.

Choosing an online school is the real choice to make, since if you’re already mentally committed to going to college, it’s only a matter of where and how. If you have a work schedule, home responsibilities, or other time constraint with your current lifestyle, then online degrees offer the flexibility you need. Traditional college offers a variety of programs that you can be involved in and appeal to the freer lifestyle though, so there’s no perfect fit for everyone.

Marcia Nusbuam writes all about online education. Her recent work is a series on the Top 10 Online Medical Billing & Coding Degrees.