Advantages and Disadvantages of Online Universities

What do you consider more important; education or experience? This is a question I asked my students in one of my ESL classes that I am now teaching abroad in China. Their answers were just as mixed as you would find in the States.

For some, education is the elite solution to “gaining a better life”. To others, experience is life’s natural education.

In reality you can do nothing without either one. And that is one of the major weaknesses of most traditional higher education establishments.

It’s no surprise to hear of the unaffordable skyrocketing costs of higher educations; the out of state and private universities are almost impossible to afford for most people.

In college, which was not too long ago for me, I took a full time job along with my full time classes. I first attended a private university, but was forced out by high costs not long after attending (just 2 years). Later I soon discovered that I could not keep up both full time job and full time classes in mathematics (my chosen field of studies at the time).

I decided to weigh my options more carefully this time.

The Alternatives

There are generally three other options available to students besides traditional “4-year” universities:

1. Community Colleges- great for getting gen-eds out of the way.

2. Tech/Vocational Schools- great for learning an employable skill.

3. Online Universities- great for obtaining an Associates or Bachelors degree.

Because I had most my gen-eds out of the way, and I was looking for a degree, I eventually chose online education.

I did quite a bit of research and spoke to a number of schools and decided on American Intercontinental University (AIU) online because of the balance between cost and an innovative approach to education.

Although their conduct during my postgraduate time has proven to be reprehensible, and I strongly advise against ever taking a loan direct from a university now, they were a quality school for general business courses.


1. Online Resources: you’re never short of resources and choices- you have access to “virtual portals” and “libraries” anywhere that you have a computer and internet connection, and there are literally 1,000’s of online universities to choose from. One online resource to help you get started is;

2. The Cost: estimates traditional universities can be over 3x more expensive than online schools. Your individual experience will vary greatly, of course, depending on the university and field you decide to pursue. On the whole, though, I have found this to be close to accurate.

3. Flexibility: perhaps the most attractive advantage to many students is Flexibility. Most classes are recorded and can be accessed any time, day or night. If you work full time, as I did, this option will provide you access to higher education with a lower stress level. But, be warned, with greater freedom comes greater responsibility. You need to be a self-starter, or very organized (or both) to succeed. No one will force you to do your assignments or read the chapters. So it’s up to you to make something out of your education (which I think adds to the experience).

4. Cutting Edge Exposure: online universities offer the use of the most innovative and cutting edge technologies for “group efforts” and “interaction”. In addition, their methods are much less traditional and are more suited to the majority of students learning requirements. I learned more in the online classes I took than their corresponding physical classes I took at traditional schools.


1. Socialization: many people want the social experience that comes with college- this feeds us both an advantage and a disadvantage; a) socializing becomes a distraction from your studies (disadvantage) and b) human interaction (advantage). For self-controlled students, the advantage outweighs the disadvantage.


1. Physical Resources: the converse to having a great deal of online resources (as mentioned above) is the lack of physical access to study halls, athletic facilities, lecture halls, and places of that nature. This will mean more to the student that lives in the Library (and finds it hard to study at home) than it will to a student that doesn’t even know what the inside of a Library looks like because he/she prefers studying at home so much. 

2. Reputation: unfortunately there are still establishments and employers that are skeptical of online universities and do not like hiring students fresh out of them. This is counterbalanced (in many cases like mine) by the flexibility allowed for students to gain work experience while still studying. In other words, you may already have sufficient work experience by the time you graduate to sooth your potential employers mind. But depending on your field, you may want to do some research on this. 

3. Professor Contact: it is a misconception that online students do not have contact with their professors- I knew my online professors better than my professors at the live universities (because live professors usually have more students). However, you do not have physical contact and they cannot “hold the pencil for you” (so to speak). This may change the name of the ballgame for some students, but technology has all but eliminated this issue, and probably will eliminate it within the next few years. 


I encourage every student that does not have a clear-cut path or exceptional opportunity in front of them to take a year off after high school to work and get some life-experience.

Try to put your high school education to use so that you can value it and see the true value (not the hyped up value) of a college education.

Do a lot of research and consider the pros and cons of the different options available to you.

Carefully weigh your financial decisions and try to find solutions (such as taking gen-eds at a more affordable institution like a community college).

Know that there are graduates out there, like myself, that recommend online universities precisely because of the flexibility they afford to students to gain work experience and educational knowledge at the same time.

And ask yourself: “what do you think is more important? Education or experience.”

In this great country, you may not have to choose between them afterall.

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