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15 Myths Debunked About Online Graduate School for 2021

Nathan Wilgeroth / Abound: Grad School »

As AI, political dynamism, and misinformation only continue to spread like wildfire throughout the internet, it’s no wonder why some people might be hesitant to enroll in an online master’s program. The truth is, however, that online graduate school can be a legitimate, rewarding, and monumental addition to your life. If you’re a working adult with various life commitments, you can still earn a graduate degree on your own time through a flexible online program. 

With the help of Carrie Phillips from Arkansas Tech University and Myron Burr from Lindenwood University, we will unpack some of the most commonly held myths about online higher education. 

1. I am too old to enter a program.

It’s never too late for graduate school. In fact, the Council of Graduate Schools found that more than 22% of graduate students were over the age of 40. A master’s degree can always be a great addition to your résumé, helping you advance your career at any stage in life.

Mr. Burr from Lindenwood University is grateful for the advent of online education, as it is “accessible to all students, no matter their age. The great part of online programs is the flexibility it provides to students, which most non-traditional students appreciate.”

2. My transcript is poor. I cannot get accepted into a graduate program.

Your undergraduate GPA is not the end all and be all for your chance of admission into a graduate program. There are so many ways in which you can improve your grad school application and make up for a poor GPA. Just some examples include studying for and scoring high on the GRE, doing an internship or gaining practical experience in the field you want to study, and getting stellar recommendations from a professor who thinks highly of you. It’s important to keep in mind that each school weighs grades, test scores, and résumés differently in an application. Think outside of your transcript and boost your application in ways that you can control. 

3. Online programs are not accredited

It’s true that some programs out there are not accredited; before most big-name schools began to take their education online, scams and fake degrees were all over the internet. But that’s no longer the case! Established, not-for-profit colleges and universities now offer high-quality education that has been thoroughly vetted and accredited by the same accrediting body that affirmed their on-campus education. You’ll have to do your research, but you will find that many programs are now regionally accredited, trusted, and respected.

4. Programs are not as valuable because prestigious institutions don’t offer online programs

Even before the pandemic, more and more schools were offering online and hybrid options to cater their education around adults’ busy lifestyles. And once COVID made its way around the world and across the states, it was the only option. We are not completely through this pandemic yet, and we are sure to feel the echoes of social distancing and quarantining long after this is over. And so, now that virtually all schools have held online classes, it only makes sense for them to continue offering them from here on out.

5. Programs are not receptive to transfer credits and/or previous work experience.

It’s true that not all schools will accept all credits, but that doesn’t mean that transfer credit and competency-based education (CBE) are completely invalid. Through CBE, prospective students demonstrate their real, hands-on proficiency in their subject of interest. Every school has its own rules, so check with the transfer policies of the schools you’re interested in to see how much of your prior learning can go toward your master’s.

6. Online programs are devalued by employers.

Online education has proven its legitimacy in the last few years alone. As long as the program is accredited by the same accrediting body as the on-campus programs, then there is no difference apart from the way in which you attended class.

In most cases, schools award the same degree to students regardless of whether they earn it online or in person. At Lindenwood University, “students who complete their degrees through online programs receive the same degree as students who complete traditional programs. You receive your degree from the university, not the online school of the university.” 

7. The return on investment for online programs just isn’t up to snuff.

While the true return on investment varies based on your specific career field, earning a master’s degree online or in person consistently shows larger gains the more advanced the degree. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, those with just a high school degree earn $746 per week on average, while college graduates earn closer to 1,248 per week. Workers with master’s degrees earn nearly $1,500 per week. These gains are irrespective of online and in-person education, showing that even an online degree has much higher earning potential than a high school diploma or bachelor’s degree.

8. The quality of professors is lesser than on-campus faculty.

Colleges are investing in rigorous faculty development programs that train them for how to lead an online class efficiently and effectively. As Ms. Phillips from Arkansas Tech University says, “at ATU, we offer an eTech College that supports faculty across campus in helping them build online courses that offer the same rigor and experience as traditional face-to-face learning.” ATU and many more are putting in the work to ensure students get the information and experience they need. 

And because these are, in many cases, the same professors as those who would teach in-person courses, online professors exhibit the same amount of passion and desire to the students who are working remotely. Both Lindenwood and ATU have online professors who more often than not also teach the on-campus version of their course, “which speaks to both the quality and the ability to provide flexibility for our students.”

9. Professors are inaccessible, and student-to-student community and engagement suffer.

At some institutions, professors and advisors are often given a timeframe in which they are required to respond to students’ emails. This window ensures that students get questions answered in a timely manner even though there is not real-time, face-to-face interaction. It is also becoming more a common practice for professors to speak to and call on students directly during class, keeping everyone engaged and stimulated.

10. Networking options are diminished.

Ms. Phillips knows that online students at ATU are more than supported when it comes to forming networking communities.In fact,” she says, “I would argue online courses offer better networking opportunities at Arkansas Tech. At the graduate level, students are able to really build relationships with classmates who are located across the country, which can help them when they are seeking advice or assistance in the job search. Additionally, online classes open a plethora of opportunities to have national guest speakers come in. For example, one of our graduate emergency management programs has utilized its national alumni network to have guest speakers regularly interact with students and provide in-depth views from the field. This is more challenging to execute in a face-to-face environment.”

11. You need to have expert computer skills to complete the program.

Students are taught how to use the modules that they will need for their program. While it may take some time to get all of the mechanics down, students won’t have to do anything on their computer but watch lectures and write papers. 

If students do end up struggling with their computer setup, “Arkansas Tech’s portal for ATU students provides 24/7 online support, plus students can submit tickets for any computer issues.” Ms. Phillips also points out the fact that the IT department also has “an on-campus location to help students who are available and prefer face-to-face help. This is all at no extra cost to students.” 

12. Online classes are easy and do not require the same amount of work as in-person classes.

Mr. Burr is quick to bust the myth that online classes are easy, throw-away lessons. “Online course work,” he argues, “is just as rigorous, if not more so, as in-person course work. The course material and instruction is exactly the same as a student would receive in person.”

Online education is very independent work. Especially if you’re enrolled in an asynchronous course, you will be required to have lots of self-discipline in order to get your work done. And even though professors are available to contact on a regular basis, you might find that this learning style comes with its own unique challenges and requirements. How much more difficult online education might be for you depends on your own learning style and how you work best.

13. Cheating in online courses is prevalent and easy.

Multiple studies have been conducted to see how prevalent cheating is in online courses. It is an easy assumption to make, but all studies found that cheating in college classes is neither unique to online learning, nor is it more prevalent online than it is in the typical college classroom. Academic dishonesty has always been an issue, but it is not one that gets ever more rampant when there is less physical supervision. These courses were designed with the possibility of cheating in mind, so it’s much harder to get away with plagiarism that one might think in a format like this. 

14. There are no academic support options available if I need them.

Like at Lindenwood University, many schools are continually making academic support accessible and helpful for online students. “In addition to the normal support provided to students enrolled at our university,” says Burr, “we have dedicated staff for the needs of online students. This staff serves as the liaison between online students and your traditional campus supports.” With online-specific advisors, you can be sure that your needs will be understood and cared for so that you can achieve the same level of success that you would have in person. 

15. I can’t get financial aid for an online graduate program.

Both online and in-person graduate students are definitely eligible for financial aid! Any student is able to apply for the FAFSA, no matter their age. Because not-for-profit, accredited institutions are of quality, authority, and merit, their online programs, too, certainly qualify for governmental assistance. What’s more, you can also look for scholarships aimed at prospective graduate students. Your possibilities range almost as far as they did when you were applying for undergrad!

You’re not at fault for being skeptical of online higher education; there are a lot of people out there looking to cause financial harm with the promise of an easy education. Thankfully, there are steps you can take to ensure that you enroll in a legitimate, career-advancing program. Not sure where to start? Abound: Grad School has started narrowing down your choices for you, picking only schools that we determined adhere to our Four As: Affordability, Accessibility, Acceleration, and Advancement. Take a look at the schools we trust and find an online graduate program that’s right for you.

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