How do on campus and online master’s degrees differ?

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Choosing between an online program and an on-campus option can be one of the more important decisions you’ll make when pursuing a Master of Social Work. In many cases, the lines between these educational pathways are blurring, with traditional courses being offered with digital learning elements and advanced video and collaboration solutions allowing for more personal interactions online. However, as the parity between these options increases, students are left to choose based more on preference and convenience than quality.

Online and on-campus educational opportunities are widely regarded as equally valid from a quality perspective. Students need to make sure whatever program they choose is backed by the proper accreditation bodies, but beyond that, the actual degrees are the same. Additionally, students can have a positive experience either way. With this in mind, let’s dig a bit deeper to explore what is different between the two learning formats. Three of the most practical distinctions include:

1. Sources of motivation

In a classroom, students have a variety of external factors pushing them to focus and perform well. These can include:

● In-person interactions with professors, creating a sense of pressure to be engaged at all times.
● Peer activities that push students to step up their note taking and listening or, perhaps, decide they are doing more than normal and lose motivation.
● Schedules that mandate attendance and force learners to be ready to go when classes are taking place.

Conversely, taking classes online eliminates much of that pressure. While you’ll still be able to engage directly with professors and peers, that interaction usually happens from behind a screen, giving you a greater sense of comfort and ease. For self-motivated individuals, this arrangement can eliminate some of the stress and strain of keeping up with an academic lifestyle and make it easier to learn. Those who require external motivation, however, may find themselves benefiting from the structure and rules of a traditional program.

You need to be self-motivated to succeed in an online course, but learning to discipline yourself and manage your time can help you develop real-world skills that pay off in the workplace.

2. Access to faculty and resources

Most college and university campuses are built around a web of support systems that exist to help students succeed. If a paper is giving you trouble, you can make an appointment at the writing center. If you feel like you’re not following the discussion in a class, professors will usually have office hours where you can stop by. If your internet stops working, you can head over to tech support.

Students shouldn’t take these types of services for granted if they are pursuing an online program. According to U.S. News & World Report, access to student services can vary between traditional, on-campus programs and online alternatives, and the faculty may be different between the two, although this is not always the case.

Many top programs have developed strategies to connect students to support systems when they are taking online courses. Whether you need tech support or want to hop on a video chat with a professor, leading online programs offer you opportunities to get the help you need in a timely and convenient fashion.

The key for students is to understand the points of differentiation between faculty and student services at the schools they are considering. Do you want to work directly with academics on research in your field? Do you want to learn from faculty members who have prior experience in roles that you seek? Learn who oversees the online and on-campus programs you are interested in to make sure the faculty fits your interests and career goals.

3. Resource management

Graduate students seeking an advanced degree will need to manage a variety of materials. Transcripts of lectures and recordings of class discussions, for example, are commonplace. A ThoughtCo. report said that students pursuing an online degree often have an easier time managing the resources that are distributed during their time at an institution. Because materials are created and hosted digitally, they are retrievable via email or through a website.

When pursuing an on-campus education, you’ll probably spend a lot of time organizing and managing paper. Whether you are receiving handouts in class, turning in papers in physical form, or dealing with other related materials, you must save, organize, and store those assets in case you ever need them. This can put a huge burden on professionals trying to find the right balance between work, family, and school obligations. Moving everything online allows academic demands to fit within your digital lifestyle, simplifying the way you manage the various resources at your disposal.

What to expect from an online MSW

Pursuing a Master of Social Work online gives you the flexibility and convenience you need to balance your education with your personal and professional demands. It can be especially helpful for those working in rural settings or similar areas where access to a traditional campus is limited.

The Regis College MSW program offers students an opportunity to engage with new learning opportunities in a demanding but accessible academic setting. Regis College Online is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, and we’ve been identified as one of the best regional colleges by The Princeton Review. Contact us today if you’d like to learn more about how our online MSW program works and if it is a good fit for you.

Recommended Readings:

Social work or psychology: Which master’s degree is right for you?
Social work or human services: Which master’s degree is for you?


How to Compare Online, On-Campus Graduate Programs by U.S. News & World Report
Grad School Online Education Disadvantages and Advantages by Thought Co.