As many of you know, I am currently getting my masters in English and creative writing. I actually only have one class left (Thesis Completion), so I am almost done with school, which is exciting (and a little sad, because I really love school). I always knew I wanted to get my masters, and usually pictured myself spending long hours curled up in a library and strolling through a courtyard covered in autumn leaves, my arms filled with books. But that isn’t exactly how it happened. Since I don’t exactly have the luxury of not working through school, and couldn’t afford to move anywhere I could afford to live and go to school, I ended up in online grad school. I wasn’t sure what to expect, since I’d only taken a couple of online classes before (which turned out to be much different than grad school anyway). It was definitely something I had to get used to, but, ultimately, it was a really good experience. Since I’m almost done, I thought I’d share what I liked and didn’t like about going to school online (as opposed to on-campus).
It’s cheaper. When I was still an undergrad, one of my professors wanted me to apply to Brown for grad school. Which was over $100,000 a year. I didn’t know then that there isn’t financial aid for grad school, and you can only get $20,500/year in federal loans (there’s a $138,500 total limit for grad school). Now, Brown is pretty expensive, but most programs I looked into weren’t all that much cheaper. In comparison, my current program (at Southern New Hampshire University) – all two and a half years of it – cost me a little over $24,000. Which is much more manageable for someone getting a degree in English in the current economy.
You can kind of hide behind the internet. It’s much easier to handle peer reviews when they’re not face-to-face. And, while I was expected to participate in discussions, I had time to think about my responses so I didn’t sound like an idiot. You’re not caught off guard by a professor asking questions, and you never have to do anything resembling public speaking. So, basically it’s school for introverts.
You can do the work whenever you want. Most of my grad school work was done late at night, in my pajamas, with Netflix running in the background. Yes, there are deadlines, but as long as you get the work in on time, you can work whenever it suits you. Which is awesome for someone whose brain hits peak processing power at like 8pm (*cough* me).
It’s difficult to network. One of my favorite parts of college was getting to know my professors, and all of the opportunities that came from them really knowing who I was. Online, you’re just a name. So it’s nearly impossible to make yourself memorable to your professor, and even harder to make friends with your fellow students. Don’t get me wrong, almost everyone is really nice, but, in two years, I never once exchanged personal information with anyone in school, and haven’t corresponded with anyone after we were no longer in a class together. Hell, there weren’t even that many school-related emails going around.
You don’t get to sit in a classroom. For me, one of the best parts of school is sitting in a classroom, taking notes. I know, I’m a nerd. But I did really miss that part of school. Taking notes when you don’t have to is just not the same.
Some people don’t respect it as much. I’ll admit it, I used to be one of those people. And there are still some degrees I think should be done in-person (like chemistry or nursing). But there isn’t anything about my degree that I thought was too easy because it was online. In fact, it was even more of a challenge, because I had to discipline myself to do the work. Still, I’ve found that a lot of people dismiss it because it’s online. And even though I know I work hard, it’s still super annoying.
The work is appropriately challenging, but you don’t necessarily have a support system. I actually think difficult coursework is a good thing (seriously, I LOVE school). How else would you learn? But this isn’t like undergrad work where it’s easy to find someone who can help you. Literally no one I know in real life could give me insight into literary theory (except my one philosophy major friend who pointed me towards some online resources to make it easier to understand). You can’t turn around and be like, “Hey, want to study together?” or “Did you understand that last essay?” For the most part, I liked being on my own, and I liked being challenged, but once or twice I did wish for a study group. Or at least someone I could complain to who would understand what I’m talking about.
It’s not that different from on-campus school. The program I’m in requires a lot of “discussion board posts” which involve creating a topic, and then replying to others. It’s similar to an in-class discussion, just slower. And, since I was studying English, most of the work was reading and writing anyway, so I don’t think I missed all that much by not sitting in a room with my peers.
Your education is in your hands. I haven’t taken an actual test since my undergrad work. No one will know if you didn’t read that book, or if you used your classmates work to help form your own answer (I never plagiarized, but seeing what other people had answered helped me figure out how to compose my own answer, and gave me a better idea of what the professor was looking for). And I’ll admit to probably reading about half of my assigned readings (there were a lot), and I don’t think anyone ever realized it. As long as I read enough to give a good answer, sometimes that’s all I had time for. So you really get what you give, because no one is babysitting you or putting you on the spot.
Obviously, this is just based on my own experience, and, like I said, I think studying English online might be different from other disciplines. But, overall, it’s been a much better experience than I’d anticipated, and I would definitely do it all over again. If you’re considering grad school for English (or any other liberal arts degree), I’d recommend looking into an online program, because at the very least, it’ll save you a ton of money.