Online vs On-Campus Classes—The Ultimate Showdown

By Bailey Werner on July, 27 2021

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Online vs On-Campus Classes—The Ultimate Showdown

It’s that time again, folks! You’ve talked to your advisor. You’ve reviewed your degree program. Let’s get ready to pre-enroll! This match is scheduled for one fall (as in the fall semester). There’s tension in the ring as you search up your first class on TigerEnroll.

Here comes trouble! In one corner, weighing in at 3 credit hours, is an online option of the course. In the other corner, also weighing in at 3 credit hours, is the on-campus course. It’s a class showdown! Which will win and take home a place on your semester schedule?

They’re worthy competitors. Both online and in-class courses are a viable way to earn your degree. In the end, it’s less about “which is better” than “which is better for you.”

That’s nice and all, but what if you don’t know what’s good for you? Maybe you’ve only ever taken on-campus classes and never an online class before or vice versa. No one wants to go in the ring blind, which is why this blog article is for you! As a seasoned college student, I have experience with both online and in-class courses.

Keep in mind that the topic and who is teaching the class are also major factors. Some classes are better experienced in person while others are easier online. One class, I remember sitting through boring lectures over stuff I already knew how to do (with the homework all online anyway). When I took the second course in Art History online rather than in-person, I missed the classroom setting. It really depends on your method of learning.

That being said, here are the major selling points and drawbacks of each. There are three main points of comparison, which will help you decide which course is best for you. These include the workload (a.k.a. the amount and type of work you’ll be doing), the resources (what you’ll need and what you’ll gain), and the experience (how enjoyable or horrible the class will be).

The Workload

Online classes are work-based.

In place of a set class time and lectures, teachers post readings and assignments due each week. You’re basically teaching yourself since you have to be self-motivated to do the research and set aside time to work. Since it’s harder to enforce the readings, online classes typically have more homework assignments and quizzes. This allows the teacher to check your progress and make sure you’re engaged in the class. While there will be more in the grade book, the assignments and quizzes are usually pretty easy. Your grade is mainly participation-based. Do the work and you’re sure to pass.

On-campus courses are lecture-based.

While you’ll have fewer weekly assignments and quizzes than with an online course, you’ll be expected to attend class. This means sitting through a lecture and paying attention. If you don’t, you risk failing the exams (which your grade hinges on). You’re expected to do your own test-preparation by participating in the class and taking notes. Your grade depends on how well you absorb the information. Overall, it’s good for auditory learners and students who require live feedback and interaction.

The Resources

Online classes can save you money.

I live thirty minutes from campus, so as you can probably imagine, my gas bill runs high. Taking online classes saves me from having to make a trip to Hays. It can also save you from lab fees and other expenses that come from using on-campus resources. If you don’t have a computer or internet access at home, however, an online class can be more expensive.

Online classes require self-motivation.

With online classes, whether you learn is up to you. Lots of the homework you could look up on Quizlet and drift through without really gaining anything. Don’t waste your money. Dedicate yourself to understanding the subject and do the readings. If you’re willing to do the work, online classes reward you with valuable life skills, such as time management and being self-sufficient. If you have trouble with procrastinating, in-class is probably the better option.

Both may require buying textbooks.

I’ve ended up needing textbooks for both online and on-campus classes. Some of my online classes used free digital textbooks or data banks for their lessons. Digital textbooks for online classes also tend to be cheaper. However, you usually can’t resell or rent digital textbooks. On-campus, I’ve had it where I never used the textbook, since everything I needed to know was given through the lectures and notes. I ended up needing the textbook for my online Art History class while I didn’t for the in-class version. I would do some research into what textbooks are needed for each course, since it may influence your decision.

The Experience

With online classes, you work at your own pace.

Online education is flexible and fits more conveniently with your schedule. Work is often posted ahead of time, so you can burn through the readings and the assignments at your own pace. You can also work on it whenever you want, not restricted to a set class time. I enjoy the freedom that comes with online classes. Being able to work ahead and not having to sit through long lectures freed up my week. I could work on classwork anytime. Overall, my online classes were less stressful.

With on-campus classes, you have the security of routine.

Some people need to be in a classroom to be motivated. Online courses can make you feel cut off from the subject and other students. Being in a classroom also gives students a sense of comfort and stability. It’s how most of us are used to learning. It’s a work environment where you can tune everything out and simply focus on the task at hand.

On-campus classes give you connections.

While most classes can be taken online, without being on campus, you’re really missing out on part of the college experience. For some careers, such as nursing, you can get hands-on training that you wouldn’t through a screen. While online classes make use of discussion boards and digital meetings, you’re at a disadvantage since you’re not working together. It’s different when you’re in a classroom and can ask the person next to you to borrow their notes. You interact more freely and form an attachment to your professor and your peers. I’ve made friendships through my on-campus classes. In comparison, interaction with my virtual classmates ended with the semester. If you’re an extrovert, you’ll thrive in an in-class environment.

Online classes focus on the individual.

If you get flustered or anxious around others, on-campus classes are overwhelming. Online classes are less socially demanding, allowing you to focus on learning. I’m an incredibly shy person. If you put me in a room full of people, I’m going to feel stressed. For me, online classes are more comfortable. I can do my work without worrying about anyone else. I can complete a task much easier when I’m on my own. The teacher can also focus on each student individually rather than on a whole classroom, making it easier to have one-on-one discussions. If you’re an introvert, you’ll thrive in an online environment.

The Verdict

Online lands a hard hit with working at your own pace. But wait, in-class is up and swinging with better friendship opportunities! The competitors seem to be equally matched! Despite their differences, both online and on-campus classes are completely viable options. I recommend taking whatever works best with your schedule and don’t be afraid to try a mix of both. If you’ve never taken an online (or on-campus) class, maybe now’s the semester to do so. As the saying goes, “Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!”


Bailey Werner

Mild-mannered student by day, writer by night... but typically by day, I’m Bailey Werner, current junior and graphic design major at Fort Hays State University. With a passion for storytelling that stemmed from 3rd grade writing hour, I’ve been crafting worlds and characters as a hobby for over a decade. Now, as a part-time content creator for the school, I’m living out my dream of writing professionally. If I’m not in my room reading, gaming, or making art, you can find me at the lake. I strongly believe in the power of storytelling, and I’ll continue to use my writing skills after graduation, in my work as a graphic designer.


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