With online education continuing to evolve at a gradual pace, employers are still not completely familiar with this type of curriculum and what it is comprised of. The battle to have executives and small business owners become more aware of the credentials of distance learning programs is ongoing. Until more online graduates become present in the working world, the reputation of their degree will typically remain less than favorable in comparison to degrees earned through traditional means.
Nevertheless, there are students who feel an online education could carry significant weight. University of Texas graduate Elizabeth Bleil explains, “It depends on the willingness of the student to commit to learning. Self-motivated students who make the most out of their learning experience may come away with a far more in-depth education than someone who sat in the back of the lecture hall.”
Unfortunately, many do not share this perception. Northeastern student, Andrew Schollaert offers his opinion, stating, “I personally don’t think online degrees are perceived very well by the majority of employer’s, relative to a normal degree. This isn’t to say that I think they’re worthless though, but as they are still developing and being regulated, I believe they will be looked down upon unfortunately.” However, Schollaert does see change on the horizon. “With tuition costs constantly increasing and more people turning to online degrees as a result of financial constraints, they will become more generally accepted. I don’t think we have hit that point yet, but I definitely like the concept of online degrees and think they can be a great means of education given the circumstances.”
But it is employers such as Brandon Mendelson who have created barriers for online students. The former business owner refuses to hire any applicant that has earned an online degree – no matter how strong their credentials may be, according to an article published on CNN. In his opinion, the experience of learning online does not come close to that of one which takes place on a physical campus. “I want someone who made the full commitment,” Mendelson said.
This stance is fairly common and anticipated by many young professionals. However, Bleil offers some hope. “There is certainly a stigma there, but if you were both working and going to school, they may see the extra effort required to maintain this type of schedule, and realize the value of a candidate who is able to actively apply their education in the work place as they complete their degree,” she said.
It is generally when an interviewer is familiar with distance learning that an online graduate is able to feel accepted. They know that the door is still open, and that they will be able to present their strengths and not have to focus on what is normally perceived as a weakness – their online degree. Still, this can be a further drawback when an interviewer has had a negative experience with a previous hire that held an online degree. Immediately, students feel as if they are being compared to a completely different person – one with less motivation and drive. This can be frustrating, but with the number of online graduates being minuscule in comparison to that of traditional graduates, employers do not have much to compare to. This type of situation has led recruiters to go in a direction that they are more familiar with.
The key here, as Evan Andersen, a 2009 business graduate from Marist College, points out, is to not try to validate your education. “Defending your degree is a waste of time. I just focus on my experience,” Andersen said. “In my experience, internships and real world experience are way more relevant than your GPA.”
With it being difficult to change someone’s perception of an online degree in one conversation, some students suggest you concentrate on the things your interviewer can relate to. Some students find that when they have earned a degree through a combination of both online and traditional classes, their academic achievement is viewed in a more positive light. Still, it does not equate to the praise given to those who have taken all of their courses in a classroom. Students are not blind to this preference, and neither are online schools. This is why some institutions have advised their students not to describe their educational background with the term online. In some cases, this is because a college or university knows that their online courses are identical to those delivered at a physical campus.
Of course if the question is asked (“Was your degree earned online?”), every student is encouraged to be honest and proud to say that they graduated from an online school, despite the fact that following that confirmation, students have then often feel the need to explain why their degree is more valuable than a traditional one. Having to defend your degree can become a frequent occurrence, but with every justification, students are able to enlighten employers on the quality of online education and of the quality of their online MBA.