An Online PhD Versus an On-Campus Program

Yelena Skosyrskih

With the economy still in recession, the employment market has diminished and job seekers’ education has become even more paramount. This has prompted many people to consider going back to school, even if a lot of time has elapsed since they earned their last diploma. Advances in technology and the growing number of diverse programs make online options increasingly enticing, even at the highest degree levels, like Ph.D.s. Some of these programs come from exclusively online institutions that developed over time as their number of undergraduate degree holders grew, creating a market for continuing studies. Others were created at more traditional big name colleges, like Boston University, in addition to their on-campus programs. To determine whether an online Ph.D. tract is right for you, here are a few things to consider.

Beware Diploma Mills

The proliferation of high quality online educational institutions has also led to the growth of diploma mills. Simply put, these are scams that take your money and promise a degree for little or no work. If you have any questions about whether the school you’re considering falls into this category, research it on the U.S. Department of Education website. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is; and if you “earn” a degree from an unaccredited institution, it won’t be worth anything to you in the job market. Thoroughly explore how a Ph.D. is regarded from any institution you’re considering.

Make Sure the Program Is Right for You

Pursuing a Ph.D. requires a large amount of time, work and specialization. It will take many years beyond a master’s and feature intensive research, paper writing, presentation giving—even interning and teaching. That’s why you need to make sure the program you choose is the one you really want and are really interested in, because if it isn’t and you need to back out or change course, you could be out a lot of money and time and have nothing to show for it.

Is an Online Ph.D. Program the Right Move?

OK, so you’ve looked around and you found an on-campus program and an online one that both look good to you. What should you consider in making your decision? First off, how confident do you feel jumping into an often competitive environment? If you’ve been out of school for a few years, online classrooms may be less intimidating, especially at first. Second, no matter what, you’ll have to commit a lot more time to a Ph.D. program than you did to your undergraduate one, but the flexibility of Web learning can help with that. The freedom to be able to download courses on your time is a huge plus. Finally, there are also a lot of fees and hassles for on-campus learning that you won’t have online: gas money, parking passes (and often tickets when the spaces are all taken!), paying for meals, traffic and crowds of other students.

Unlike in your undergraduate studies, a Ph.D. program requires acute specialization, and you can’t switch schools or programs easily. Online Ph.D. programs offer many advantages compared with on-campus ones, so if they’re offered in the field you’re interested in, you should strongly consider them.

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