Q&A: Graduate School after online classes: What's the difference?

Q: I'm taking classes online and I'm thinking about going to graduate school. Is there anything different about going to graduate school after getting a degree online?

A: Many of the key elements in going from undergraduate to graduate school are the same. You still need to find (and fund!) a program, take the GREs, write a letter of application /intent, and so on.

A few key points differ, though. Some should be pretty obvious: in the traditional classroom, you'll have more opportunities to speak up in class, give presentations, etc. Unless you seek it out, you'll have less public speaking experience when you graduate than someone who attends a traditional school. When it comes time for the interview, you may come up short.

The main differences relate to the interpersonal contacts, especially those that blur over into professional activities. At a traditional school, ambitious students might stay after class to discuss the material, or stop by office hours (without a complaint!). Seeing potential, professors might ask them to be research assistants, tutor writing, edit student publications, or help in a lab. These extended experiences outside the classroom, where the students exercised more responsibility, would deepen professors' understanding of their students. The more professors know about you, the better they can help you choose a program -- and the more vivid and persuasive their letters of recommendation will be. Likewise, the more you know about your discipline, the better decisions you'll make about graduate school.

Online, you lack many of these chances for exposure. In fact, depending on how your online school schedules, you might not even be able to take a second class with a professor you really like. Therefore, to prepare for graduate school, you'll need to actively seek out networking and professional preparation opportunities on your own.

Greg Beatty

Greg BeattyGreg Beatty has a PhD in English from the University of Iowa and over twenty years experience in higher education. He’s taught everything from standardized test prep courses and freshman orientation and composition courses on up to serving on doctoral committees. He’s taught in the traditional classroom, correspondence courses, online courses, and hybrid courses. He’s developed curriculum for several colleges (sometimes as sole author, sometimes working collaboratively), and served as a textbook manuscript reviewer for Longman. He’s won grants for course development, and awards for his teaching. Greg has mentored new teachers and co-taught workshops on teaching excellence. He’s also served on a range of committees and college advisory boards, and has served as an area chair for humanities.