Online vs. Traditional DegreesOnline vs. Traditional DegreesOnline vs. Traditional Degrees

Online education is on the rise. The proportion of higher education students taking at least one online course is at an all-time high of 33.5%, according to “Grade Change: Tracking Online Education in the United States,” a survey by the Sloan Consortium, part of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.

Popular as it is, distance learning can still be a source of uncertainty for some students. Unsure what to expect, they are curious about the differences between online and traditional degrees.

Among their questions: What are online classes like? Who teaches the classes, and how? What degrees can I pursue online? How can I communicate with my instructors and classmates? What kind of course load can I expect? Will employers accept my online degree and will I be able to get a job after graduation?

This guide is intended to address some of the most common issues and help students determine whether an online education is for them.

Female graduate celebrating.

Differences in Distance Learning

The classroom has long been the heart of any learning experience. Classwork involves discussion and interaction as well as applying oneself to the subject under consideration.

Class schedules

In traditional settings, classes are held at the same time and on a set schedule for the duration of the grading period. Students attend to hear lectures, ask questions of the instructor, and participate in discussions with their classmates. Depending on the course, labs also may be required.

Online classes take place over the internet and can be structured in two ways:

  1. Synchronous learning carries on the model of the on-campus structure, with students and instructors online together at the same time. Classes take place at specific times and students have to be online to participate. Videoconferencing and group messaging platforms are frequently used for synchronous class models, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education (CHE).
  2. Asynchronous learning allows students to complete their work on their own time. As long as they check in with the class on a regular basis and finish the assignment within the mandated timeframe — usually about a week — students can enjoy wide flexibility in their schedules.

Successful asynchronous learners are independent and self-directed and able to take greater responsibility for their coursework.

Programs at Maryville University are 100% online, offering students the opportunity to tailor their education to their personal and professional lives. Class sizes are kept small, which ensures that instructors have time to respond to students in message, email, or other formats, even though classes themselves may be asynchronous.

Course difficulty

Some prospective students have the idea that online courses are easier than the on-campus variety. They’re not.

“Students shouldn’t make the mistake of assuming that their school’s online graduate program will be easier than the in-person version,” U.S. News & World Report notes. Successful online study requires motivation and a high level of self-discipline.

As Maryville University President Mark Lombardi, PhD, put it, “Everything inside of the classroom should be challenging, and everything outside of the classroom should be easy.”

Maryville University online classes are taught by the same professors who lead on-campus classes, and students are expected to meet the same high standards.

Will my Diploma Look Different?

A major concern for many students is what their diploma will look like — specifically whether the word “online” will appear on it.

Increasingly, the answer is “no.” Most students today receive the same credentials, no matter where they completed their degree or program.

“In most instances, schools that offer online and on-campus versions of the same program will not distinguish between the two in their diplomas,” US News & World Reports writes.

Graduates of Maryville’s online programs are indistinguishable from their on-campus peers, said Thomas Nunes, one of the school’s enrollment advisors.

“The degree students earn from an online degree program is no different than that earned in a traditional classroom-based education,” he said. “Nothing on the diploma indicates the program was online. Online students and traditional students earn the same degree in look and proficiencies.”

Similarities in Online and On-Campus

Online and on-campus degree programs have become more similar in their course offerings, educational requirements, accreditation standards, and financial aid.


Accreditation, the process by which higher education institutions and their programs are evaluated for quality and educational standards, is particularly important for online schools. Accreditation affects everything about a student’s degree, from financial aid to transfer of credits to graduate school admissions.

Accrediting agencies, overseen by the U.S. Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), are responsible for ensuring academic quality. Accreditors fall into three categories: regional, national, and programmatic. Many online programs have programmatic accreditation, even if the university of which they are a part has its own accreditation.

Employers will often verify an online school’s accreditation, especially if it is a smaller or lesser-known institution, U.S. News reports.

Maryville is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), one of six respected regional accreditors. Information about individual programs’ accreditation can be found on their specific pages.

Financial aid

Like their on-campus peers, online students are eligible for various types of financial aid. Admissions counselors at Maryville are familiar with the various types of loans, scholarships, and other forms of aid available and can help students find the assistance that is best for them.


Students often choose an online program because it allows them more flexibility to work or be available for family responsibilities.

Other Factors to Consider

Prospective online students should pay attention to other aspects of their education as well, including:


Computers have become basic learning tools, even for elementary school children in some areas. High school and post-secondary students embrace technology as part of their educational career.

Nevertheless, online coursework at the college or graduate level can require a higher level of digital familiarity and literacy. Becoming comfortable with technology can make online coursework easier.

Student Services

Student services are found on most brick-and-mortar campuses, but online programs are beginning to offer similar assistance. Maryville has a support team dedicated to helping online students.

Students considering an online program should ask about tutoring and career counseling, U.S. News advises. Those services are even more useful if they are offered outside of traditional working hours when many online students would need them most.

Online education allows working adults the flexibility they need to pursue their education and advance their careers. Earning a degree online provides the same quality education and degrees as traditional on-site coursework.

Maryville University’s online bachelor’s master’s and doctorate level degree programs are designed with student advancement in mind. Contact an enrollment advisor today to learn more about how an online degree can help you succeed.


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