You may have many questions if you are considering returning to school to earn a degree or certificate. One of the big ones that potential students often ask is: are online degrees the same as traditional degrees?

The answer is simple: yes, but also no. While there are similarities between these two methods of pursuing education, there are some key differences. Neither type of learning is better or worse than the other. While some students learn best on campus, others thrive in the setting of an online learning experience.

Let’s take a closer look at both traditional and online degrees to help you make the best choice for your own circumstances.

Online Degrees vs. Traditional Degrees: Similarities

Online education is relatively new, while on-campus learning has been around in the U.S. for hundreds of years. So it’s not surprising that there have been misconceptions about online degrees. The good news is that as technology has developed to enable students to have a seamless learning experience over the internet, online degrees have become just as robust and comprehensive as degrees earned in the classroom.

If you apply for an online degree program at a reputable, accredited, non-profit college or university, you can be assured that your online degree is just as valid as that of someone who spent years in the classroom. Employers will not penalize you if your degree is online, and the skills and training you earned will be as well-developed as if you had been there in person.

Below we have covered a few things to consider when thinking about pursuing an online degree.


Accreditation is an important factor to consider when researching potential institutions. The Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA) recognizes only a handful of accrediting agencies in the U.S. Your chosen school should be vetted regularly by one of them. This process is rigorous and detailed and aims to discern that your college or university adheres to the highest level of academic quality.

You can often find out if an institution is accredited at the “about us” tab on a college’s website. If you don’t see it there, it’s an important question to ask an admissions counselor when you are considering applying. If a school you are considering has not undergone regular accreditation, you’d be wise to step away and look elsewhere.


Another similarity between online and in-person education is in the services offered. These may differ in how they are delivered, but your online institution should provide a range of services, from career assistance to library access, just as you would have if you were there in person on campus.

How these services are delivered varies from school to school. You may be able to access tutoring assistance, for example, over the phone or via a chat room. Just as a school provides essential services to ensure student success for in-person individuals, they should also support your education, both in and out of the classroom.

Most online colleges and universities outline the services offered on their websites, and it’s a good idea to research what’s available before you apply. Many schools feature a one-on-one success counselor who can help you with everything from learning time management skills to accessing your transcripts. These counselors can play a significant role in your success with your online degree.


Your diploma or certificate will probably not indicate whether your degree was earned online or in the classroom. A bachelor of arts degree is the same, regardless of the school’s delivery method. Remember: you are earning exactly the same degree or credential as someone who was physically present in the classroom.

Career outlook

Online education has become mainstream. Undoubtedly spurred on by the pandemic, more than 50 percent of higher ed students took at least one class online in 2020. With numbers like that, it’s no wonder hiring managers are increasingly likely to offer jobs to graduates with an online degree.

Northeastern University’s 2018 survey, “Educational Credentials Come of Age,” backs this up. Sixty-one percent of the human resource professionals surveyed felt that online degrees were at least as good as those earned on campus. Seventy-one percent of them had personally hired someone with an online degree. These percentages have likely increased by leaps and bounds in the five years since that survey was published.

What does this mean for students? It is doubtful they will be passed up for a job just because their degree was earned online.

Online Degrees vs. Traditional Degrees: Differences

However, there are differences between online and traditional degrees, and students should be aware of them so they can decide on which will work best for them.

One of the big differences is related to the classic college experience. For many students, college is as much about making friends, attending sporting events, and getting their first real taste of freedom as it is about attending classes. These traditional college activities may be missing from the online experience. Online students may have to make an extra effort to build relationships and forge networking partnerships with their peers, though even that is possible with most online programs.

For students involved in programs with asynchronous classes, for example, those that can be attended at any time, an extra degree of motivation may be required to sit down at the computer and attend the classes, especially if the student has other time-intensive commitments, such as a full-time job or young children.

For some people, a hybrid program may be the best option, where the classes are mostly held online, but there are in-person orientation sessions or internships to be considered. Some hybrid programs also feature an even split of courses, with some held at the campus and others online.

Another potential difference between online and traditional degrees is the cost. Online students save money and time by not having to travel to a campus and pay for gas and parking. There may also be a different fee structure than that used for traditional students, with online students paying less over the long run because their program is accelerated.

Is an Online Degree Right For You?

Only you can say whether an online degree is right for you. Online students tend to be motivated and career-focused and able to benefit from the more flexible format of online learning. An online degree can save you time and money and get you into the workforce in less time than a traditional program. But there are drawbacks, too, in losing face-to-face time with your professors and other students.

What is your best strategy? Consider your options carefully before you apply. Take your time, talk to your loved ones (you’ll want their support!), and build a realistic timeline for your education. Doing this will set you up for a successful and rewarding educational experience.

Interested in a degree instead?

Learn more about online degrees, their start dates, transferring credits, availability of financial aid, and more by contacting the universities below.