These days many universities offer accredited graduate programs with an online component and even programs that are entirely online. These programs provide a high level of flexibility that makes them appealing to working adults, but can they really provide the same quality of education you’d get from an on-site program?

Unfortunately there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this question. Online programs come with both advantages and disadvantages, and the best program for you depends largely on what you want to study and how you learn.

Here are three questions to ask when choosing between online and on-site graduate programs:

1. Can you get the degree online from a respected school?

Online-only colleges have existed for several years now, but few employers take these credentials seriously. Luckily in the past few years many well respected colleges and universities have begun offering online programs.

If you can get into one of these programs you’ll have a degree from a respected school and you won’t need to disclose the fact that you earned it online.

2. What industry do you want to break into?

Whether or not potential employers will accept an online degree depends largely on the industry you’re in. For example, 70% of employers in the internet and new media fields will accept degrees from online colleges, but only 29% of employers in the advertising industry will accept online degrees. More employers come around to the idea every year, but an online degree can still hurt your chances in many industries.

Some industries also require so much hands-on learning that there are no online programs for them. In this instance, you’re stuck with an on-site program.

3. How good are you at working on your own?

Most schools provide some kind of educational support for participants in online programs, but there’s only so much they can do from afar. You’re on your own for most of the work, and without strictly scheduled classes, it’s your job to make a class schedule that works. And any entrepreneur can tell you that making your own schedule can be both a blessing and a burden—it’s a lot easier to stay motivated with professors on your back.

In other words, you have to be a self starter to successfully complete your online degree. Nobody will be holding your hand to get you through.

4. Will you still be able to access networking opportunities?

Many people say that one of the most valuable things—if not THE most valuable thing—they got from university was the professional network they developed. Networking is incredibly important because in most industries 70-80% of new jobs are never advertised. They’re given to someone the employer knows with the skills in question.

Some online university programs provide excellent opportunities to connect with faculty and other students, but many lack this vital component of education. This can make it extremely difficult to break into the industry when you’re done school.

5. Can you do a partially online program?

A number of universities now also offer programs that combine online education and on-site education. These programs can provide the flexibility working adults need while also providing extra support and networking opportunities.

Even programs connected to industries that are heavily hands-on sometimes offer an online component that gives students the flexibility they need to work.

If you’ve considered all of these factors and you’re still not sure what type of program is best for you, speak with a university representative about the specific differences between online and on-site programs. Having a quick chat with representatives from all the schools you’re considering will give you a better idea of what you can expect—and what you want.

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