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The pros and cons of an online graduate program, from someone who’s in one

Grad school • December 4, 2018 • John Lanen


What you’ll learn

  • What it’s like to get a degree online
  • Some employers provide tuition reimbursement
  • How online classes differ from an on-campus experience


I’ve known since high school that a graduate degree was somewhere in my future, but it wasn’t until I found an all online master’s program that I knew how I was going to make that happen for myself.

What was most exciting to me was that I would have the chance to attend grad school without uprooting my life or taking time off work to study. Going back to school online has been a great opportunity, but there were some aspects I didn’t expect.

Here are a few facts to consider if you’re thinking about pursuing an online master’s degree.

The good

  1. I can work full time while earning academic credit

    Because I’m taking just one class at a time, I have the flexibility to continue working while advancing my career goals. Anyone who’s looked for a job knows that your number of years of experience can determine your eligibility for a promotion or your next great opportunity. By working while enrolled in an online degree program, I’m building my resume in more ways than one.

    Some employers (like mine) even offer tuition reimbursement, which makes paying for graduate school more affordable. This allows me to continue earning money while I’m in school and has eliminated the need for graduate student loans.

    Pro tip:
    Are you paying for grad school? Remember, scholarships aren’t just for undergrads. There are graduate school scholarships, too.

  2. Everything is accessible from home—and on my schedule

    Because of the format of my online classes, I can view lectures on my own time. Unlike traditional classes that are held at the same time each week, I can go to class when it fits my schedule. Everything is accessible from my laptop, or my work computer. Plus, class recordings are available throughout the semester to help with studying before exams.

  3. I’m not uprooting my life to go back to school

    Starting grad school was different than going to college. One of the biggest differences is that I have a life (and a routine) already!

    With friends, family, and my first apartment, I’m putting down some roots. This isn’t to say I’ll never look for new opportunities elsewhere, but for me it was nice to start a graduate program without completely disrupting my life. Plus, with the stability of my career, I’m not stuck living like a starving graduate student, or working part time to make ends meet.

The not-so-good

  1. It’s different than the on-campus, undergrad experience I remember

    Grad school is different from undergrad in many ways, especially if you’re nowhere near a college campus. While I’m glad to be working and gaining experience, being a grad student from home leaves me feeling far removed from my days of wandering campus and late nights at the library.

    It can also be harder to feel fully engaged with your studies when balancing work, life, and school gets tough.

  2. It’s harder to connect with colleagues and professors online

    In the semesters I’ve been enrolled in my graduate program, I’ve found that making real connections with my classmates is more challenging than with face-to-face interactions.

    A mainstay in my graduate program is the online discussion board. Communicating in this format can be tedious and not so engaging. While it’s great to fill my LinkedIn contacts with classmates, it’s not the same as having a peer group or a professor to speak with in person.

  3. It’s up to you to stay motivated

    One big thing to remember about enrolling in any graduate program is that you’re there to learn, and to get better at the subject you’re passionate about. It’s not like undergrad, where you can skip the readings and still do fine on the term paper.

    If you enroll in an online graduate program, it’s up to you to stay motivated, keep up with the lectures, and learn the material. In the end, you’re your own cheerleader (and the reason you’re going to make it through the program).

Do what works for you

Going to grad school online is a great opportunity to master a discipline while growing professionally in my field. The online format works for me and gives me the flexibility to take steps toward the life I imagine.

If you’re thinking about starting an online graduate program, remember that you’ll need to keep yourself motivated to get the most out of your experience.


John Lanen is a market research associate at Sallie Mae, where he uses consumer research to enhance the customer experience. He is also working toward earning his graduate degree.


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Sallie Mae does not provide financial, tax, or legal advice and the information contained in this article does not constitute tax, legal, or financial advice. Sallie Mae does not make any claims, promises, or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained in this article. Readers should consult their own attorneys or other tax advisors regarding any financial strategies mentioned in this article. These materials are for informational purposes only and do not necessarily reflect the views or endorsement of Sallie Mae.