If my blog page-views are any indication, most of you want to know more about the pros and cons of an online Master’s degree in History. Having taken a few online courses through American Public University, I can now speak with more familiarity on the issue. I can’t stand against an online Master’s, not definitively, but I also can’t embrace it as Internet article writers are wont to do.
Most of my graduate education took place at Central Michigan University, a brick and mortar school. During my studies I tried to accelerate my studies by taking a couple of classes at American Public University, a popular online college, and transferring them back to Central. The critique that follows is colored by my first-hand experience with both formats in close proximity to the other.
Unfortunately, I’ve also seen how hard the job hunt is, and don’t doubt me: for this reason alone you should probably stay away from an online degree. It’s not only that online degrees still have a bit of a foul stench to some employers, but that in a highly competitive market, there’s no reason to cut corners. It will only hurt you in the long run.
First, the pros:
1) The professors do interact with the students. One of the critiques of online classes centers on the lack of interaction. This is flat-out wrong. I received just as much interaction with professors and students online as I did in a classroom. (There is a caveat, however.)
2) Your time is valuable and this allows you to take the class on your own schedule to a point. There are still deadlines, of course, but you can divvy up your time however you please.
Now, the cons:
1) The classwork is inferior. I noticed that my assignments and readings weren’t nearly as complicated or as numerous as my Central classes. An example: I would routinely read 15 books a semester, write 5-page book reviews and a 30- or 40-page research paper for my graduate classes. At APU, there were 3 books, 8 or 16 (depending on the length of the class) 500-word message board posts about the subject, and a 15-page paper.
2) The students aren’t smart. This is the caveat I mentioned in point 1 in the “Pro” section. While interaction is there, it’s not nearly as stimulating as in the class-room. Message board posts take away something from in-person debates, and the intelligence level of an online student is way below where it is in the classroom. I found my co-students much more engaging at Central. Probably because they usually read the assigned material before arguing. All of the flaws of Internet communication are on display in an online class: typos, poorly constructed sentences, ALL CAPS CONVERSATIONS, etc.
Maybe it doesn’t matter where you get your degree. If you’re looking for a job, it’s important to do the following: If you can, go to a big name school. Maintain close, close relations with your professors and get great letters of recommendation. Student teach (something online schools can’t offer yet), and publish, publish, publish. Maybe then you’ll stand a chance at getting a job.