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A Common Dilemma: Attending Grad School On-Campus or Online?


Table of Contents:

Introduction Flexible or structured? Learning Style and Resources Money Matters Your Career Goals Conclusion



You have finally made up your mind and have decided to pursue a graduate degree. However, even before you begin your application process, there is another dilemma that awaits you. Should you choose a traditional on-campus experience, or should you prefer an online program? As we will see together, each of the two options have their own merits as well as their drawbacks. In this guide I will go through these pros and cons and do my best to help you make an informed decision. Let’s begin!

Flexible or Structured?

To start this analysis, it is important to say that the choice between attending grad school on-campus or online is all about how you as a person like to conduct your everyday life. Generally speaking, on-campus options tend to be more structured, with regular classes hours and in-person activities. On the other hand, online programs offer more flexibility, as you can study and meet people anywhere and at every time through your computer.

Given that everybody has their own perceptions and differences, you can all take at least a few moments to introspect a bit and reflect on whether you are a more flexible or structured person and student. To help you with this, I have prepared a simple question you can try to answer:

  • If you had to describe your day with three words/phrases, what would you choose?

Also, here I wrote some example answers, which you can use to start orienting yourself. Remember that they are not automatically associated with being structured or flexible, is all about how you interpret them:

  • I love to spend my day with my partner and/or my family

  • I live following a solid routine

  • I am fully involved in my undergrad study association

  • Traveling is what I want to always do

  • I like my day to be full of in-person conversations and debates with my peers

Learning Style and Resources

As it was already said, to make a final and satisfying choice you really need to reflect on yourself. This also means understanding how you like learning and how your learning style and needs can match an online or on-campus program. Traditional on-campus graduate schools typically provide their students with high-quality facilities, large (sometimes even massive) libraries, labs, and other resources that might not be as readily available in a digital environment.

Parallel to this, online programs work with the latest innovations to offer their students a wide range of contents and resources, which they can often access in a split-second. Digital libraries and virtual course materials can make information (and education in general) more accessible for all, but this learning environment may not be as immersive and authentic as an on-campus experience.

Money matters

Every student has to think about their financial possibilities when applying to a specific program, and this is also true for people that are applying to a master or phd. When deciding between the two options we are discussing, keep in mind that online degrees may be cheaper as you can attend the classes from home, without paying your on-campus dorm or commuting costs. However, some of them may also require their postgraduates to pay fees for using certain platforms or technologies.

Furthermore, let’s not forget that many on-campus programs support incoming and current students through scholarships, grants and fellowships that help to reduce education costs. Also, students can find employment in the university where they are enrolled. Think about it: all the facilities that were mentioned previously (libraries, laboratories etc.) are often willing to hire postgrads in their staff.

Your Career Goals

Lastly, when thinking whether to apply for an on-campus or online degree, remember what are your career goals and how the context you are going to choose can help you achieve them. In general, networking is often key to bridge your academic career with a professional life. Being on-campus is usually helpful in this sense. Indeed, students can talk face-to-face with professors, peers, and potential employers, and easily build a deeper and trust-based relation with them.

On the other hand, online programs may be helpful for those who want to get access to very specific fields, with subjects that may not be widely offered in traditional universities. Take for example Gastronomy (the study of how to choose and prepare food in the best way): it’s much easier to specialize in this field through an online degree.


It’s the moment to conclude this article. We have discovered that the choice to attend graduate school online or on-campus is linked to different factors, among which I have analyzed personal and learning preferences, financial and money matters, and career goals. Consider carefully these points (and others I may have not thought about) when making your decision.

As a final remark, keep in mind that independently from the format of your choice, every program is an incredible and unique learning opportunity. After all, you have the power to make it enjoyable, satisfying and memorable.

Good luck with your graduate journey!

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