Earning an online PhD can be a rewarding experience. But, virtual graduate programs are less common than online undergraduate degrees and pose a unique set of challenges. Take a look at ten of the pros and cons of earning an online PhD before deciding if this is the right choice for you:
Pro: You can fit your PhD schedule around your work and family needs. Many adult learners decide to earn an online graduate degree after years of professional experience. If you have an already hectic schedule involving family and work commitments, an online PhD program can help you achieve your educational goals without giving up the activities you love (and the money you may need to fund your studies).
Pro: You can earn an online PhD from a university in another state, without relocating. It can be hard to relocate for your degree, particularly if you have a solid career and community ties. By earning your degree online, you’ll be able to choose a program that works for you without uprooting your life.
Pro: Your online PhD may lead to additional career opportunities. In a competitive job market, an advanced degree may be just what you need to earn that promotion or change careers. (Be careful though – in some non-academic fields, a PhD may make you overqualified and considered unemployable).
Pro: You’ll get to work with professors and peers from around the nation (and maybe the world). Diversity is a huge bonus when it comes to online education. Play your cards right and you can create a network or professional contacts across the country.
Pro: There are a number of legitimate, accredited online PhD programs to choose from. While there aren’t as many online graduate degrees as there are undergraduate degrees, you still have many quality programs to choose from. Many online programs are accredited by the same regional accreditors that recognize brick-and-mortar schools.
Con: If you plan to teach in a traditional university, hiring universities may look down on an online PhD. The truth is that if you plan to be a professor, you may be subject to bias from hiring committees and brick-and-mortar schools. Many online graduates are good candidates for teaching at online colleges. If you still want a face-to-face position, you can improve your chances by becoming published in your field and gaining face-to-face teaching experience.
Con: Most online PhD programs have mandatory residency periods that you must attend in person. Whether it is several weekends or a three-week annual conference, expect to complete a mandatory residency period. You may need to take time off work in order to travel to these condensed learning sessions. Additionally, you will probably need to visit the campus in-person when your dissertation comes before the committee for review.
Con: You may miss out on face-to-face learning opportunities such as guest speakers from your field and personal mentorships. Some of the most exciting parts of brick-and-mortar programs just won’t be available online. You may miss out on that famous guest lecturer, the friends that make a team to create a conference presentation, get togethers at professor’s homes, etc.
Con: You won’t have the same access to libraries and other research resources while working on your dissertation. Having a secluded place to study, easy access to scholarly publications, a lab, or other resources may make writing your dissertation a lot easier. Your online program should try to help by providing a library shipping service, online access to journals, and whatever else they can reasonably do. However, you should plan to take a lot of initiative on your own.
Con: It can be difficult to qualify for teaching fellowships and similar funding if you’re an online PhD student. Many graduate students receive scholarships and stipends by teaching undergraduate courses or participating in research. However, these options are rarely available to online learners. Make sure that you have another way to fund your degree if you choose to take the online option.