Online or on-campus: Which program is right for you?

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A man works on numerous screens.
Being a counselor can be a highly rewarding profession. Helping others cope with their emotions, better understand their behaviors and find strategies to manage their lives is a responsibility counselors hold dear.

One of the best ways to build a skill set and knowledge base that prepares you for the rigors and realities of professional counseling is to earn an online counseling degree, like a Master of Arts in Counseling (MAC).

This graduate degree helps students master counseling disciplines and competencies in preparation for positions like substance abuse counseling, school counseling, mental health counseling, and family and marriage counseling.

However, students face a major decision before the first class even begins: Do I enter an on-campus program or enroll in an online option? The online degree vs. campus degree debate is one many students weigh, especially prospective graduate students who are likely already working full time, but still want a MAC to advance their careers further.

Here’s a primer any potential MAC student can use to distinguish whether an online counseling degree or an on-campus one is most suitable.

Defining the typical on-campus experience

When deciding whether to pursue an online or on-campus degree, start with the physical experience of going to class — and more importantly how it aligns with the daily lives of most online MAC seekers, who often lead busy lives with work and family.

Completing your studies on-campus can have some benefits, mainly proximity to professors. Being physically present may more easily allow a student to build relationships with instructors and ask questions whenever needed. However, there are some drawbacks to the on-campus graduate education:

  • Since the subject matter is more complex and in-depth, you can expect to spend a lot of time on course work. Balancing in-class requirements, studying and research needs with day-to-day work and personal life can become difficult.
  • Commuting to and from school may also be a hassle that can affect your learning.
  • Required physical attendance factors into grading, which can again complicate matters for graduate students who are already busy enough.

A girl works on a laptop computer.Features of an online counseling degree

The answer to the question “what is the difference between online degrees and campus degrees” should hopefully be “none.” That is, for students who want to complete an off-campus option, the online program should be as comprehensive and enriching a learning experience. The only difference is that course work is completed from your home or local cafe instead of in the lecture hall — which is no small advantage for many graduate students.

Other pros of an online counseling degree include:

  • Being able to access lessons and complete coursework when it fits your schedule.
  • Potentially finishing your degree in a faster time than is usually seen with on-campus programs.
  • Continuing your professional career as you learn, instead of taking time out to attend physical classes.

Finding a qualified and robust online program is the priority for any student. Particular points to research include the curriculum, faculty and learning objectives. You’ll also need to look at how the school may offer technical support. Picking between attending school online vs. on campus starts with asking some questions:

  • Will I have the same amount of access to professors? Will virtual office hours be provided, and will I be able to reach out to faculty and instructors on my own?
  • Does the online platform make my learning collaborative and detailed enough to get a high-quality education?
  • Will I be able to complete coursework on my own time? Does the school help me accomplish this?
  • Does the curriculum cover the fundamentals I expect and the specializations I want? Does it differ in any way from an on-campus option that may affect my quality of learning?

Programs that hit on all of these criteria are among the best choices for an online counseling degree students will be able to find.

Are you ready for an online counseling degree?

Lastly, students also need to make sure they’re prepared to handle an online graduate education (provided on-campus isn’t an option anymore).

The most important box to check off is having a strong and dependable internet connection. You certainly don’t want your connectivity to fade in and out when you’re watching a video accompanying a lesson, nor lose your work or progress on a quiz administered online.

Additionally, do you have a space conducive to learning? Finding a quiet room is a must to get the most out of your online learning program. Sometimes it helps to change up the settings once in a while and maybe visit a coffeehouse or public library to get a bit of that on-campus feel.

How Bradley University’s online MAC degree stacks up

Bradley University understands the needs of the online student population, and has developed an online Master of Arts in Counseling program designed to help them achieve the same learning outcomes as any on-campus option, while granting them the flexibility and support they need.

Our online curriculum is structured to meet accreditation standards maintained by the Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP), and our faculty is invested in the personal and professional growth of online students.

With benefits like picking your own site supervisor for practicum hours and access to a cutting-edge approach, Bradley University does everything it can to help online counseling degree students succeed.

Recommended reading

What you need to know about accreditation

Why a Master of Arts in Counseling degree is right for you


U.S. News and World Report