What to Expect in an Online Degree Program Residency

Not every online degree program is 100 percent virtual.

Many include an in-person requirement, or residency, where students meet either on the school’s main campus or at a regional satellite campus. Residencies are more common in online graduate degree programs, such as MBAs, as well as clinical fields, like counseling, nursing and dietetics, though they do exist in certain certificate and online undergraduate degree programs.

[Learn why to consider an online MBA program with a residency.]

Residency lengths vary among online programs, from none at all to one day a week, 10 days a year, two weekends a month or a longer immersion. Residencies aim to supplement reading- and writing-intensive coursework.

Students considering an online degree program should determine whether an on-ground residency is right for them and their career goals and if the time, travel and financial demands of a residency are within reach. Here are four aspects to expect during an online program residency experience.

• Group work: Even though online classrooms, or learning management systems, allow students to work in virtual teams, faculty may also wish to have students collaborate in a face-to-face setting. Activities can range from quick breakout conversations with classmates to large complex case studies simulating real-world scenarios, where each student has an assigned role and task.

 Networking opportunities: Gerard Puccio, chair of the International Center for Studies in Creativity at SUNY Buffalo State, told me that in the school’s online graduate certificate program in creativity and change leadership, the two-week summer campus residencies for incoming and outgoing students intentionally overlap so students have more opportunities for networking and formal and informal learning.

 Instructor observation: Whether explicitly stated, faculty will be observing you.

[Explore tips for interacting with online students and professors.]

In some cases, observations are formal, and each student receives feedback. In other cases, the observation is more informal.

Either way, as soon as you set foot on campus, faculty and classmates are assessing your collegiality, professionalism, knowledge and skills. Be mindful of this and strive to represent yourself in the best possible light.

• In-person discussions: While discussion boards are common in online classes, they are often limiting – with a student reading, writing and responding to others and then moving on to the next task without circling back to follow up.

Residencies are an ideal opportunity to have deep and meaningful discussions on complex topics that don’t translate well in the online classroom. Many faculty teaching hybrid classes provide reading and lecture materials online and use all of their time on campus for discussion. So, prepare to talk, listen and discuss.

The takeaway: Prospective online students should determine whether it makes sense to choose a program with a residency component, especially if they want in-person networking opportunities and to cultivate a deeper connection with faculty.