Should You Go to Grad School Online or In Person?

The decision to obtain a master’s or doctorate degree online or in person is an important one, as it will dictate a large part of the graduate “experience” you’ll have as a student. Of course, the recent pandemic and subsequent shutdown pretty much forced everyone into the online or virtual arena, but as the education world slowly opens back up, the choice between in-person or on-campus learning once again becomes important.

What’s the most popular choice?

While distance education certainly saw a temporary spike (nearly 100%) in 2020 due to the pandemic, that is the exception to the rule. As more institutions offer flexible learning environments to accommodate students’ busy lifestyles, the majority of grad students still tend to study on campus.

As of 2019:*

  1. 57.7% of graduate students were fully in person and didn’t partake in any distance education courses
  2. 42.3% of grad students partook in some or all distance educations
    1. 9.8% of these students took at least one distance learning course
    2. 32.6% of these students were exclusively online

Certain programs, especially those in the STEM and health care fields, require lab work or research, so on-campus study is much more conducive to completing a degree. However, the appeal of distance or online learning has been growing amongst those students that are in the workforce full time or have families.

The good, the bad and the costly

As with any decision, it’s always good to weigh the pros and cons. Everyone will have different pros and cons based on their life situation and learning style. The following are some factors you should consider before making your decision.


Some people think that online will be less expensive than an in-person experience at a brick-and-mortar university, but surprisingly that’s just not the case. Online and in-person programs usually cost about the same. In fact, some online programs can cost more than in person. Determining the kind of financial commitment you’re comfortable with will also play into your decision.


Online classes are more isolating than in-person classes, and they can make group projects and class discussions more challenging. Going to a classroom full of students produces a more collaborative environment and makes asking questions and discussions with classmates and professors easier.

Level of difficulty

Course load wise, each option is equally challenging. This factor really depends on your style of learning. If you’re not a very self-disciplined learner, then online may be more difficult for you. Time management becomes even more of a factor when learning remotely. If you prefer more flexibility in terms of when to participate and complete assignments, then online could certainly work for you. Attending classes in person on campus can sometimes create a more accountable atmosphere versus online learning, which results in a make your own schedule type of environment.

Type of degree

If you’re pursuing a master’s or Ph.D. in a science-based field, you may want to be on campus because these are primarily research-based and require lab work. However, if you’re pursuing a humanities degree, an online program may be conducive to that type of work. You should also determine if you’ll need access to student services like the library, career counseling and tutoring.


Some schools employ different faculty members depending on the degree. Adjunct professors tend to teach online programs versus professors with doctorates. Again, the relevance of this difference may depend on the degree you’re seeking. Adjunct professors tend to have more industry experience, which may be helpful in an MBA program. Ph.D. professors tend to have more research and publishing experience.

Choose what works for you

Whether you choose an online or in-person option for your grad school experience, you’ll have many program options to consider. It comes down to which format best fits your field of study, lifestyle and needs.

* Fast Facts: Distance learning (80) (