Online Degree vs. Traditional Degree

Is an online degree as well accepted as a traditional degree? This is the question almost everyone asks about distance degree programs, and the answer isn't simple.

The acceptance of online degrees varies depending on many factors: the company, the industry, the level and type of degree, the degree-granting institution, and, of course, the individual reviewer. Let's look at some of the factors that can affect how well received the distance degree will be:

Degree-granting entity. Employers might worry about the legitimacy of a degree from a school they aren't familiar with. They are right to be cautious, as many "degree mills" exist - they have names that sound like legitimate universities, but grant degrees based on "life experience" for little more than a fee. Your best bet is a degree from the distance learning arm of a well-recogized traditional university, or at least of a well-established and accredited distance learning school.

Level of Degree. The online bachelors degree seems to have the most skeptics. In a 2001 survey of human resources professionals by Vault.com, 26% of respondents found an online degree as credible as a traditional one. 61% considered the online degree acceptable but less credible, while 13% found the online-earned degree unacceptable. Online graduate degrees were found to be as credible as traditional ones by 37% of the respondents.

Field of Study. Legitimate online degrees seem to be better accepted for majors that tend to be knowledge-based, such as information technology areas, accounting, etc.

Industry. Some industries are more accepting of online degrees than others. Predictably, the best numbers from the Vault study were logged in Internet/New Media (70% projected acceptance), Technology (46%), High Tech (44%), and Marketing/Media(29%). Areas like Medicine and Law were described as the least likely to accept online credentials.

Individual Hiring Manager. As with every hiring situation, a lot comes down to the personal preferences of the hiring manager (and those of key influencers). Some individuals emphasize work experience far more than academics, while others weight academic history and accomplishments more heavily. Naturally, individuals just beginning their career will see more emphasis on academics.

Other Qualities of the Degree Holder. The rest of the candidate's resume may well influence the credibility of the degree - if she has been employed in a related field with excellent accomplishments, and chose an online degree to allow full-time work, the degree may be viewed as a mark of a self-motivated learner. The same degree without the work experience or without an apparent reason to choose distance learning may be less credible.

Online Degree vs. Traditional - Summary. Online degrees from quality institutions are reasonably well accepted in some areas, though less so in others. They are most likely to be accepted in technology or other knowledge-based fields. Relevant work experience may augment the credibility of the online degree.

See also: Pros & Cons of an Online Degree