Like most recent high school graduates, Tammylynn Rodriguez started her undergraduate education on a physical college campus in 2004.
But after a fire at her family home, she needed to drop out and work full time to support her family. She eventually returned to college in 2011, enrolling in evening classes in the Bachelor of Business Administration degree program at Temple University’s Fox School of Business.
After Fox launched its online BBA, Rodriguez decided to switch to this option in 2013, primarily because it offered her the flexibility to work around her schedule.
“It really just allowed me to be myself. I could be the full-time employee, the wife, the mom and the student, so it really was able to help me balance out my life and have that time for myself,” says the 32-year-old California resident.
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Rodriguez isn’t alone – experts say many students transfer from face-to-face to online degree programs for various reasons. While individual circumstances vary, here are five signs that you may want to make the change.
1. You need more flexibility because of changes in your personal life. Sometimes, unexpected changes occur, and students can no longer spend time commuting to campus, says Elvita Quinones, associate director of Fox’s Center for Undergraduate Advising. That’s particularly true for new or soon-to-be parents as well as those experiencing health issues, experts say.
Referring to students who transfer within the institution to online programs, Charla Griffy-Brown, professor of information systems at the Pepperdine University Graziadio School of Business and Management, says, “I’ve had students who have had children, students who have actually had an illness or some other distress. I’ve had students who have fostered or adopted new children. They just need a schedule that is even more flexible than our evening program.”
2. You are temporarily or indefinitely moving far away from campus. Dawn Coder, director of academic advising and student disability services at Pennsylvania State University—World Campus, says some students shift to online because they want to study abroad while also completing certain requirements.
“They might take a general education course, or even a major course, at the same time as they are studying abroad,” says Coder. Doing so allows them to take courses that wouldn’t have otherwise been available to them overseas, she says.
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Students may also transition to an online program if they plan to relocate to another part of the country permanently or for an unknown amount of time. Kat Kerwin, a junior at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, plans to complete her remaining two semesters via the online format since she is moving back home to Providence, Rhode Island, and running for city council.
“I wanted a University of Wisconsin degree,” says the 20-year-old. “And I wanted to be able to do it remotely.” She says she is working with her advisers to develop an academic plan to complete her remaining courses online and through independent research.
3. You are starting a new job. Students who didn’t work previously may now need to do so full or part time, says Coder. “They might need to work in an area where a residential campus is not available to them.”
Griffy-Brown, of Pepperdine, says changes involving students’ jobs – including military deployments – are a primary reason for them to shift to online education, even though the school’s in-person programs are also designed for working adults who want to take classes in the evenings, for example. That’s because many online programs enable students to work around their own schedules.
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4. Your financial situation changes. Students who can no longer afford room and boardand need to move back home may want to transition to an online program, experts say.
Transferring online may also be ideal for students nearing graduation who may only have a class to two remaining and don’t want to spend as much money to live on campus, says Quinones.
“It doesn’t behoove them to take a full semester and pay for housing,” she says.
5. You are better suited for online courses or a mix. Coder says she’s seen an increase in the number of students switching from on-ground to online learning for mental health reasons, such as social anxiety. This allows them to study remotely and in more solitary. Others may choose to take a course or two online to supplement their in-person education.
Regardless of a student’s reasons, experts say they shouldn’t expect the online degree program to be easier.
“There are some people,” says Griffy-Brown, “who may not understand that online learning is just as engaging and, in fact, is going to be just as intense – if not more so – than their face-to-face learning experience.”