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The Benefits of an Online Degree: a Student's Perspective

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Jessica Regan shares her perspective on the benefits of an online degree and her experience as a student in UW-La Crosse Online's Masters of Science in Student Affairs Administration.

Why did you choose to earn an online degree?

I chose the master's in Student Affairs Administration through UW-La Crosse Online, because it was the best program for me. It had a stronger student focus than other online degree programs that I was looking at, and the convenience of being able to study online really made it possible for me to continue my education while working and living in Madison, Wisconsin. It was really important for me to be able to further my education without totally restructuring my life.

How were your experiences with classmates?

The interaction with my classmates in the program was great! There was constant engagement and constant interaction in our online discussion forums and via email. Online degree programs definitely have a different level of engagement with classmates than on-campus classrooms; we're not just in the classroom together for a few hours each day and then in another class with a different group of students. About a dozen of us had every class together, which meant that we were always interacting with each other online in order to get our work done.

Did you have any face-to-face time with classmates?

I met a few people in person throughout the program as I traveled to their schools for work. I was also able to meet the rest of my cohorts when we all attended a professional conference in Seattle at the end of the program. It was nice to be able to put faces to names and further develop the bond that started at the beginning of the program. I really got to know them very well and even today we still stay in close contact both personally and professionally. It has been really valuable to study in the online format because I was able to work with different people from across the state and across the country from a variety of different backgrounds. My classmates were fellow working professionals who brought unique perspectives into our online classroom; it was a really valuable experience for us all to learn from each other.

How would you explain the interactions between the professors and the students?

The professors in the program were really engaged and always in tune with how they could help. The professors were really great at responding promptly by phone, email and through the discussion boards to help us complete our coursework. Throughout the program, they had a good sense of how to best help us. I really developed a lot of good relationships with my instructors. And, even though the online degree program didn't have the face-to-face element, they really got a good sense of all of our personalities and how we worked best as students.

How does earning an online degree compare to traditional learning?

I think they're two very distinct programs; the on-campus program is better fit for some and the online program is definitely a good fit for others. The fact that I completed an online degree definitely didn't affect my ability to earn my current position.

Are there any myths about earning an online degree?

I think one of the myths about online degrees is that online programs are not as rigorous or demanding as traditional classroom programs. I really found that wasn't the case at all. It was not an easy program to go through. It was time consuming and very rigorous, and in the end the online degree is just as valuable as any other University of Wisconsin System degree. The fact that it was an online degree doesn't even appear on the diploma, so my online experience was a really positive one.

How do employers view your educational success?

When I was applying for my current position, my employer said that because I was currently working toward my master's degree, it demonstrated that I was really serious about making this my long-term career. It was also beneficial to have some basic foundational principles and the knowledge that's required to do a really great job. Since then, I've also been able to pursue other professional development opportunities that have required a master's degree. Currently, I teach a class at UW-Madison because I have my advanced degree, so it's really opened a lot of doors for me professionally.