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Once upon a time the choices in higher education were relatively simple. In-state or out? Public or private? Trade school or college? These questions helped to narrow the list down to less than five options for potential enrollment.

In modern times, however, not only have the sheer number of higher education centers increased, but these colleges, trade schools, and universities are offering more and more in the form of online classes. By 2013, one-third of college students were taking classes online, and these numbers have grown further in the last three years. These days, the biggest question facing potential students is typically whether or not they should pursue education options onsite or online.

Every situation is different, but there are clues as to which works best for whom. Indicators for which is the best option, onsite or online college, are as follows:

Test Prep Preferences

The ways in which a student best prepares for SAT and ACT testing provides an important insight into whether they’d be better taking courses online or in person. A student in high school who sees significant improvement in SAT scores after utilizing an online prep program like Kranse is likely to respond better to a digital learning platform. Therefore, this student would almost certainly prefer an online class to one in real life.

However, this isn’t always practical or even possible:

Area of Study

The learning and mastering of certain knowledge and skill sets are inherently going to be difficult to do online. While accounting and computer science are prime material to be covered computer to computer, lab science and zoology are less palatable via online only. Determining an area of study, even if it’s a general one until long term plans get sorted out, will lead potential students to a point where the decision between online or onsite schooling is much more clear cut.

Available Opportunity

Individual merit, technological proficiency, geographical location, and a number of other factors go into the sorts of academic opportunities available to a given person. Someone with academic goals which fall well within the realm of accessible online coursework, who would have to drive 50 miles to the nearest brick and mortar university is better off going the distance learning route. On the other hand, an aspiring rocket scientist living an hour away from MIT might want to take a look at the train schedules.

Introvert or Extrovert

These outdated labels are still generally insightful, just with a grain of salt. Being an introvert or an extrovert has an influence on whether online or onsite higher education is likely to be better, but probably not in the way you think.

If someone identifies themselves as an extrovert, they may want to go to a brick and mortar school but are more easily distracted by classmates and other aspects of traditional campus learning. Therefore, they may benefit more from enrolling in online classes where they are less likely to be lured off track.

Conversely, introverts are likely to be drawn to online coursework but are sure to see benefits in attending class onsite such as exposure to team-oriented activities and network building.

Synthesis

Of course, the ideal option for the overwhelming majority of higher education seekers of the 2010s is to mix things up a bit between real world and virtual learning. It’s a way to achieve a greater level of convenience for students without compromising on quality.

The landscape of academia is constantly changing, with the current shift toward a balance between onsite and online learning possibilities. Potential students are often unsure as to which is best for them. Taking into account a few factors, the right path is certain to be illuminated in time for next semester, with a combination of digital and classic classrooms no doubt on many student schedules.

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