Today’s college graduates and professionals have more options than ever when pursuing a master’s degree. In addition to on-campus graduate programs, the number of quality online programs in diverse fields has grown. The increase is a response to the needs of working students desiring to pursue a degree while employed full-time or managing other responsibilities. Students evaluating whether to attend an online or on-campus program should consider the differences between the two formats as well their own learning needs.

Differences Between Online and On-Campus Programs

A major difference between online and campus-based programs is the type of communication involved. The classroom offers personal interaction with instructors and other students in real time. Online attendees communicate via a Web interface, relying on the written word to convey their thoughts. Students who thrive on discussion and group learning should consider whether distance education provides enough social support.

Another key difference is flexibility in scheduling. On-campus courses require regular attendance whereas most online courses are asynchronous. Online students can plan access around other daily responsibilities and can respond to communications at their own pace. However, this freedom requires them to be highly motivated and organized in the absence of peer support.

The two formats also cater to different learning styles. Students who are auditory or experiential learners often excel in the classroom while online students work well with written materials. Distance programs also require the initiative to log in to classes and keep up with assignments and exams. When choosing a format, students should consider their learning styles and need for structure.

Student Profiles

Online graduate students are usually working professionals seeking to advance their careers. They choose distance learning for the flexibility that allows them to juggle school with other full-time responsibilities. Online students are older than traditional students, and many are women with families. Successful distance learners are disciplined, self-motivated and able to work independently. The benefits they gain from the online format outweigh their need for on-campus interaction. They also tend to be visual learners with strong reading and writing skills. Although campus-based programs also require these skills, online students rely on written communication to succeed.

On-campus graduate students are often preparing for their careers whether for the first time or to change fields. They tend to be younger than their online peers, and a higher percentage are continuing directly from undergraduate study. For daytime attendees, school is often the equivalent of a full-time job. These students enjoy the structure, social environment and networking opportunities of a campus setting. A significant number are pursuing hands-on degrees in the health professions, the sciences, and the visual and performing arts. Another large group consists of working professionals obtaining an MBA or other advanced degree through local evening and weekend classes.

When deciding whether to study on campus or online, students should consider how their personal needs and learning styles align with each format. As both options have their advantages, today’s market is truly one of student choice.