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3 Differences Between Online and Residential Education
USC Gould School of Law

Monday, July 19, 2021

Studying remotely at a coffee shop.

Have you decided to pursue your LL.M. degree? When you’re going back to school, you have numerous options in front of you. One of the biggest decisions you must make, other than which school you’re going to attend, is whether you will enroll in an online or on-campus program. Both types of education offer distinct advantages. The one you choose should ultimately depend on your circumstances and your learning style.

The Social Environment

In 2013, William Stewart, the assistant vice president of a well-known college wrote, “We will be among the first to recommend the campus-based format for ‘traditional’ 18- to 24-year-old students. The structure and socialization this environment provides is quite often what these younger students need to succeed.”

However, Stewart’s statement is by no means applicable to all students. Students of all ages, especially those that have taken online classes in high school or college, may already be equipped to succeed in an online classroom where in-person socialization is non-existent or limited.

Mature students — graduate students, in particular — who are going to school less for the college experience and more for the education itself may be even more likely to thrive in an online classroom environment.

If you’re concerned there may be a lack of networking opportunities if you attend class online, you don’t have to worry about not being able to establish useful connections. There are effective means you can use to network with people whom you’ve never met face-to-face. A Harvard Business Review article offered some tips for networking with those you can’t meet in person:

Be proactive. Look for opportunities to engage with people online whom you think would be a valuable part of your network.

Attract contacts to you. You can do this by having complete and interesting social media profiles. The HBR article recommends you write informative articles, but the principle could extend into your online classroom. By offering intelligent comments during class discussions, you let professors and fellow students know you’re passionate and engaged with the topic on hand.

If possible, try to solidify your online contacts by setting up in-person meetings.

The Schedule

Distance learning programs often offer students greater flexibility with their schedules, whereas on-campus programs require they be in a physical classroom at certain times every week. The on-campus structure is often beneficial for those who aren’t yet skilled at managing their time effectively.

U.S. News offered some tips to students on how to succeed in an online program. One tip recommended that they establish their own schedule for learning. An expert quoted in the article stated, “Really good professors will help you put the framework in place. If you don’t have that type of framework in place, you’ll have to do it yourself.” Strive to set aside a few hours each day to work on your education so you don’t fall behind in your classes.

If necessary, you could ask your boss at work to give you a little extra time off each week so you can focus on schoolwork. You may also choose to take one class at a time rather than accepting a full-time learning load.

The Required Motivation

On a physical campus, you’re surrounded by other students whose goals are similar to your own. The sense of comradery this creates can make it easier for you to stay focused on your goals. In-person study groups, coupled with the campus environment, might spur you to success.

If you attend online classes, you may have to find different ways to stay motivated. A ThoughtCo. article offered a few tips for motivation:

Connect with your classmates. This goes back to creating social relationships with your virtual co-learners.

Discuss what you learn. By talking to friends, family, or co-workers about the exciting new information you’re taking in, you might have an easier time staying enthusiastic.

Chart your progress. You could create a progress chart that keeps track of how many more credits you have to earn before you have your degree in-hand.

Reward yourself. When you reach a goal, whether you got the grade you were hoping for on an exam or you completed a quarter without missing any assignments, you can treat yourself with a night out on the town, a new gadget, or something else that you’ve been wanting.

Is One Better Than the Other?

While there are some significant differences between online and residential education, there are some things that stay the same:

The cost. An educator quoted in a U.S. News article stated, “Some online programs are more expensive and some are less expensive, but in general they are the same price.”

The degree designation. The U.S. News article just mentioned cited another expert who said that most schools don’t differentiate between online and on-campus degrees.

The quality of the education. Whether students learn online or on-campus, they can be confident they’re learning the skills needed for a successful career.

William Stewart, mentioned earlier, wrote, “Distance education will never replace traditional higher education, nor should it. However, distance and online programs provide the flexibility and convenience campus programs are not well-suited to match. In the final tally, it is the outcome of the educational experience that really matters, not where or how students learn.”

Which Is Right for You?

Whether online or residential education is right for you depends largely on your circumstances. Online education might be the better choice if:

You’re a working professional with little time to attend on-campus classes. Online education can be especially attractive if you live outside of the U.S. but are looking for knowledge of U.S. law.

You’re a self-starter who can stick to a study schedule.

You have the technological know-how to keep up in an online classroom and establish an online network of contacts.

If you decide that getting an online education is the best way for you to earn an advanced law degree, learn more about University of Southern California Online Master of Laws (LL.M.) program.


How to Compare Online, On-Campus Graduate Programs

Outcome, Not Process, Matters in the On-Campus vs. Online Education Debate

Networking with People You Can’t Meet in Person

5 Tips to Succeed in an Online Course5 Ways to Stay Motivated



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