Online Colleges vs. Traditional Colleges- Which is Better?

Online learning is booming in recent times, but is it better than traditional learning? In order to answer this, traditional vs. online education are compared based on a number of criteria in this article.

TCM Staff

8th October 2020

Gone are the days when to get a degree it was necessary for you to go to college and attend classes. Now you can join any online college which is accredited and can get a degree in your desired field just by watching videos and completing assignments on the go.

The prime differences between online colleges vs traditional colleges are, online learning offers an accelerated, flexible and affordable mode of education. It is well suited for self-motivated students with diverse courses provided and for the ones who have to balance other committment. However a traditional colleges fixed curriculum, availability of resources, and direct interaction with professors. 

It is challenging to decide whether to pursue a career from a traditional college or follow the trends to choose the best online college.

Choosing a collegesource -

Online College vs Traditional College - A Battle for Quality Education

The variations between online and traditional college programs extend so much beyond either being in a classroom or at home in front of your laptop.

Before selecting one or the other, take the time to learn regarding the necessary variations between online and traditional education so that you'll find the perfect collegiate experience that works best for you and your lifestyle. 

Don't get all worked up! We will guide you along the way, starting with simple things first. 

What is a Traditional College?

A traditional college degree means a degree earned in a traditional academic field through full-time attendance at a college or university.

The traditional college comprises proper physical infrastructure, canned lecturers and assignments, etc.

Now, the definition sometimes includes part-time, n-campus college study. However, a traditional college degree does not currently include online degree programs.

Traditional college

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Features of Traditional College

  • Structured and Rigid Curriculum - Students are required to follow a structured curriculum as laid down by the institution.

  • Direct Interaction - One can directly communicate with professors and classmates.

  • Easy Availability of Resources - One can make use of libraries, health center, computer lab, fitness center, etc.

  • Commute Issues - Inconvenience of travel can be a problem if the college is far from one's place of residence.

    traditional college

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Is that so? No worries. Let us explore the plethora of options that online colleges offer. 

You may also read: Part-time vs Full-time student

What is an Online College?

Today's world is all about the internet, generally, Online Colleges aim to provide online education to the students through the internet, rather than going and attending colleges in a traditional campus setting with proper infrastructure.

An online college refers to online degree programs offered by colleges and universities, where the students have the liberty to learn each and everything online. 

Online Colleges

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Features Of Online Learning

  • There is no fixed schedule or rigid curriculum to be followed.

  • One needs to make use of the resources available online, to help them throughout the course.

  • There is no need to travel back and forth.

  • No need to sit in class and worry about attendance-related issues.

  • To make effective use of online learning programs, one must be self-motivated.

List Of Online Degrees

Online Colleges offer a plethora of choices and the list non-exhaustive. Some of the courses offered by online colleges are given in the table.

Best Online Degrees
Bachelor of Science in Accounting Master of Science in Information Technology
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration  Associate of Arts in Education
Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice  Associate in Applied Science
Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences  Bachelor of Science in Paralegal Studies

You may also read: Difference between BA and BS degree

                                  Associate degree vs Bachelor degree

Best Online Colleges 

To help us find the best colleges out of the lot that provides distance learning, we checked the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

The list features a collection of the top accredited schools from all over the country that give students the option to pursue a variety of certificate, undergraduate degree, or graduate degree programs entirely online.

Capella University

Drexel University

Colorado State University-Global Campus

American Public University System

Colorado Technical University

Keiser University

Walden University

Grantham University

Stalwarts Who Pursued Their Education Through Online Learning

1. Shaquille O’Neal

One of the greatest basketball players of all time, he did his BA through distance mode at LSU in 2000. In 2005, he went on to earn a Master’s in Business Administration through the online course offered at the University of Phoenix. That’s not all, he also holds a PhD. in Leadership and Education from Barry University.

2. Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela, a Nobel Peace Prize awardee, could not get access to face-to-face education due to his prison confinement. However, it did not discourage him from getting a degree. While in prison, Mandela went on to get a Bachelor in Law degree from the University of London through distance learning.

3. Narendra Modi

The Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi, too, is a distance learner. He holds a degree in Political Science from the reputed Delhi University, which he pursued through distance education while working on his political career.

4. Steven Spielberg

Steven Spielberg was kicked out of the California State University in 1968, however, he never underestimated the value of education and enrolled himself with Charles Sturt University (CSU) to complete his Bachelor’s through their distance learning mode.

Difference Between Online Colleges and Traditional Colleges

There are a lot of significant differences between Online Colleges and Traditional Colleges. Some of the factors where the difference lies are given. 

1. The nature of course-work 

Coursework can be synchronous or asynchronous in nature.

In Traditional colleges, the prime course work is synchronous while it is asynchronous in case of online. 

Course worksource -

2. Schedule

The course schedule is rigid when it comes to traditional college while it is flexible for online colleges allowing you to attend classes whenever you have time.

It benefits part-time students and working professionals.

3. Economic Viability

The course-fee in a traditional college is very high compared to an online college, as the former includes maintenance charges, study material, and other internal fee requirements along with tuition charges.

Online only includes tuition and certification charges and is less in comparison to a traditional college.

4. Feedback

In traditional colleges, students and faculty can have one-on-one verbal interaction more frequently and students can give feedback more often.

In online colleges, the feedback sessions aren’t that frequent and interactive.

5. Quality Of Education

Accreditation of online colleges can be an issue while determining the quality of the learning program because traditional colleges are accredited more often and effectively than online colleges.

Although the level of learning is on par for types of colleges, this can be an issue while selecting a college for your desired field.

Online vs Traditional Colleges - Which is Better?

In the tug of war between online and traditional education, there is no universal answer. The answer lies in the realm of your personal preference and understanding what you actually seeking in the education domain.

Both online education and its traditional counterpart have pros and cons, therefore it’s necessary for students to know what to expect before they step foot, or log in to their classroom.

This article will be comparing their flexibility, discipline and self-Motivation, and social interaction. Also, focus on each aspect side by side so that you can have a clear view of what to choose.

1. Flexibility

One of the key elements to consider once weighing the choices is the amount of your time you have each day to dedicate to schoolwork.

online collegesource -

Are you willing and will be able to attend college full-time or do you want more flexibility to work around your busy schedule?

Online Colleges

Traditional Colleges

Weekly Format

Daily Format

Attendance is not a part of the grade

Attendance is a part of the grade

Have more time for self-development

Have less time for self-development.

2. Discipline and Self-Motivation

Something else to think about while weighing your college choices is your level of self-discipline.

Both traditional and online education definitely need some discipline to succeed, however, there may be vital differences in how learning is structured.

These structural variations will have a big impact on your ability to remain on track.

Online Colleges

Traditional Colleges

You need to be highly motivated to do the work without being monitored

The structure of the college keeps you motivated, with face to face interaction with instructors and students

Stay up to date on the course 

The on-campus setting has more possibility of staying up to date on the course.

3. Social Interaction

One of the largest concerns that students have about online education is interaction with other students.

Students even have a large range of choices in this area.

Some students would like interaction with peers and instructors to succeed and keep motivated, whereas some thrive in an independent study environment.

Online Colleges

Traditional Colleges

Very less or no Interaction among students

Daily Interaction among students

Very less direct interaction with Instructors

Regular interaction with Instructors. 

Why is there a sudden rise in Online Education? 

Well, the rise isn’t sudden, it has improved after the quality of learning has improved on online platforms, where experienced faculties came forward to take classes and remove geographical and economic boundaries on education.

The worldwide spread of the digital mediums and the ever-increasing access to the Internet has certainly aided this rise.

Online degrees vs traditional degrees: Statistics history

All Enrollments and Online Enrollments (2016 and 2017)



% of 2016 Total


% of 2017 Total

% Change, 2016-17

All Students






Enrolled in No Online Courses






Enrolled Exclusively Online






Enrolled in Some Online Courses






Source: insidehighered

Enrollment in Public and Private institutions



% of 2016 Total


% of 2017 Total

% Change, 2016 to 2017

Public Institutions






All Students






Enrolled Exclusively Online






Enrolled in Some Online Courses






Enrolled in No Online Courses






Private Nonprofit Institutions





All Students






Enrolled Exclusively Online






Enrolled in Some Online Courses






Enrolled in No Online Courses






For-Profit Institutions






All Students






Enrolled Exclusively Online






Enrolled in Some Online Courses






Enrolled in No Online Courses






Source: insidehighered

Myths about Online Learning

There are many misconceptions that prospective international students have regarding online colleges. Some of the myths and what actually happens behind the screen are given.

myths and facts

Myth 1 - You will have to study the entire course material by yourself.

Fact - Online Class Instructors are responsible to teach the course as they would in a brick and mortar class. Instructors are there to teach you and guide you at every step.

Myth 2 - There is no interaction with instructors and classmates.

Fact - With the advancement in technology, online education has now become very effective and interactive. Students and Instructors are meeting online, in the real world, in a face-to-face manner.

Myth 3 - Online Courses are easier than on-campus courses.

Fact - Most of the online colleges are now accredited, and these online courses are as challenging as their on-campus counterparts.

Myth 4 - You have to be a tech wizard to take these online courses.

Fact - To pursue an online course, one doesn’t need to have any prior technical knowledge. Platforms hosting online courses have greatly improved and simplified their user interfaces.

Myth 5 - Online degree is not recognized by employers.

Fact - Online courses are considered reputable enough to be recognized by employers. Moreover, most of the employers themselves hold an online degree. 


Which one is better? - It depends on what course you want to pursue and how much time you can allocate for it. Moreover, it also depends on what factors matter the most to you.

Online learning is easy, affordable, comfortable, but the catch is that for online colleges, students have to be highly organized, motivated, and enjoy learning at their own pace. Employers are embracing online education in record numbers. Unlike a decade ago, employers no longer automatically perceive online degrees or distance education as inferior or second class.

At the end of the day, what matters utmost is whether the education program you are enrolled in helped you to learn something or not. Let it be online or traditional college, the main motive should be to get the maximum benefit from either of these courses.

After carefully reviewing your requirement list, you can opt for the one which suits both your pocket and your learning temperament.

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