Are Online Schools as Tough as Their Traditional Counterparts?

Are Online Schools as Tough as Their Traditional Counterparts?
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For decades, Ivy League schools such as Harvard, MIT and Stanford ranked as some of the top educational institutions in the country. Students receiving degrees from those colleges have gone on to become highly successful entrepreneurs, CEOs and financiers. Their degrees are held with high standards in the business world, more so than some smaller, non-prestigious universities.

However, with the advancements made in online learning, many top schools in the United States have extension programs where most classes are taken online. When graduated, these students can say they received an Ivy League education, but does it hold the same weight?

Online learning normally has opened the doors to education for many who would not be able to attend college. Many available programs, especially the newer, ever-popular Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs), are said to have less rigorous admission and curriculum requirements. Although the degrees received are technically the same as those received by traditional students, are the education requirements and standards equivalent?

Admission Requirements

To attend an Ivy League school, high school students should have successfully passed a standard core curriculum that includes English, math, science, social studies and a foreign language. For admittance into Harvard University, for example, high schoolers need to have a 4.0 GPA, range, SAT scores above 2100 and ACT composite scores above 30.1

However, requirements for admission into the Harvard Extension Undergraduate Program vary. Because the average age of an online student is 35, SAT scores and high school grades are irrelevant. The degree programs are not considered open enrollment, and students must maintain certain standards to continue in the online program. For instance, they must complete three required admission courses, earning a 3.0 (B) or higher. The most important predictor of admission to the extended learning program is having the ability to do honors-level work.2

Admission to both programs includes a series of essays, recommendation letters and high school and other college transcripts. And although the graduation rate of the extension program is low (less than one-fifth of 1 percent), those who put in the blood, sweat and tears in the online program, felt their online degree was equivalent to one received the traditional way. The degrees may be the same, but the price to get them was vastly different: $25,000 (online) vs. roughly $90,000 (traditional).3

Curriculum Standards

There are obvious differences between receiving a degree online as opposed to one from a traditional brick-and-mortar college. Besides cost and convenience, the curriculum can be quite different as well. Online courses, whether they be at an Ivy League school or a typical state college, allow more flexibility. Students can take classes around their work or family schedules. However, many claim to have the same curriculum standards.

At Syracuse University, for instance, the curriculum, academic calendar, faculty and tuition are the same for both an online and traditional masters’degrees. They even have equal access to faculty and course material. And depending on the school and program, the online degrees may not even mention that it was earned via distance learning.4

One of the main differences, however, is the access students have to instructors, resources and other students. For some, receiving instant feedback from a professor about a paper or lecture is more valuable and gratifying than an online class where there is a chance the student may never even meet his or her professor.

Finally, students who get easily distracted or are not ambitious or self-driven, would benefit more from face-to-face learning, as extension programs are proven to be more difficult.

Bottom Line

What it comes down to when determining if an online college degree from an Ivy League school is as valuable as one received a brick-and-mortar is the school itself and its requirements and standards. In many cases, students won’t notice a huge difference between the two types of learning; many changes are seen elsewhere including tuition costs and flexibility.