Although I do feel that online degrees are more prevalent than they were ten or even five years ago, I still think that some people don’t fully understand what it takes to earn a degree online. I’m not trying to scare anyone away from taking online courses, but you should definitely be aware of what you’re getting into before you sign up.
About three years ago I completed an online degree in web design and interactive media through The Art Institute of Pittsburgh Online Division. Here are five things that I feel everyone should know if they’re thinking about getting an online degree in design.
- Earning a degree online takes focus and discipline.
Of course earning a degree at a traditional college campus takes focus and discipline as well, but I learned that it almost takes more when your taking classes online. How so? Well, I found it was so much easier to email a professor and tell them I didn’t finish an assignment, than it would have been to tell them to their face. When you’re not physically walking on a campus and going to class it’s easy to forget how important your class work is… and how much you’re paying for your degree!
- Online degree programs are NOT easier.
This was actually one of the first things I thought when I decided to take online courses. I was working full time and I just assumed that an online degree program would be easier with my work schedule. You could take one course during a session or two (each session was 8 weeks long). I remember thinking, “Oh, I’ll take two courses and this will be a breeze.” I think I actually asked if I could take more than two. After I started, I was glad that I was not able to take more than two. With work, the two courses per session kept me very busy and during the summer I would only take one course per session so that I could still have a life and enjoy the warm weather!
- If you want to learn something, you still need to put in the time.
This is similar to number one in a way, but there’s something I need to point out. I’m pretty sure that I could have finished all of my design projects with little effort and still passed all of my courses. In the end I would have received my degree, but what would I have learned? I probably would have learned that by putting in minimal time, I can submit average design work. As a designer that would like to excel in my field, that’s not what I want. I made sure I put in the time to submit multiple drafts of my design work in order to improve each project. I knew if I put in the time I would get more out of the program.
- You need to be prepared for a different way to learn.
If you’re used to the traditional way of learning where you go to class, hand in your assignments, and take tests, then online learning is going to be a change for you. When I was taking online classes there were no lectures you had to attend online. Most of the time I was reading lectures online and in my textbook. With the advancements in video technology (especially Google Hangouts), I’m sure it’s much easier for online video lectures to take place. The hard part is finding a time when everyone in the class is available, especially since students can be spread throughout the country. I once had a professor for a video class that was on assignment and administering his classes from China! What I’m saying is, be prepared and keep an open mind… You may have to do a lot more reading, tests may be open book, and some of your design projects may have to be photographed and sent to your professor. If you set a specific time for doing your online class work and get into a routine, it will make your life a lot easier.
- Online design schools are NOT always cheaper.
It just needs to be said, so that you know and you’re prepared. Don’t think that just because it’s an online school it’s going to be cheaper than a traditional school. Do your research and check out traditional schools near you as well. They may be less expensive and have the design program your looking for. They may also have an online option, so that you can do some of your course work online while still taking classes on campus.
The last thing I’m going to mention is more of a suggestion and not something that you really need to know… It’s my personal opinion. If you’re in high school and looking to go to college for the first time, an online design school is not your best option. I understand that not everyone has an option to choose, but if you do, go to college. Go to a traditional college and live on campus with people your age… and have a good time! You may be nervous about it, but I can pretty much guarantee that you will not regret it. I went to school at a four year university in upstate New York and I still consider it the best four years of my life.
So, who should consider taking online classes? People that are already working and looking to advance their careers or change their careers by learning something new. Of course, if there are no traditional college options near you, an online school is always a good option.
If you’re interested in getting an online degree, be sure to check out our online design schools.