Too Sick For School. Online Degree?

Casey has some health problems & needs a transplant. And although she’s still plugging away at her college classes, things would be a lot easier on her if she could switch to an online degree.

Hi Josh,

I really love your website, and enjoy reading your advice everyday, so thank you for that.

Thanks, and thanks for reading it!

My question is regarding online degrees. Technically, I am still a “traditional student” in the sense that I am only 21, have obtained my AA, and have been attending college since graduating high school. However, because of severe health problems, these last few years of school have been tough to get through.

online degree
If it's good enough for this guy, then man, it's gotta be good enough for the rest of us.

Man…sorry to hear it.

I have been looking into obtaining my degree online, but the idea that I may be scammed really makes me paranoid.

That’s natural, but I think that the whole online-college endeavor has matured to a point where you can safely choose among at least a couple dozen schools without fear of getting scammed.

Now, by not getting “scammed,” I mean you can attend and receive a degree from an accredited, legitimate college. Just like brick-and-mortar colleges, though, quality varies, as does the employability the degree affords you.

Getting my degree online would allow me to not worry about attendance (my biggest problem with my health) and not worry about driving, housing, etc that can all get tricky with my situation.

True — you sound like the ideal student for an online degree program, really.

I found a degree program offered my University of Massachusetts, Amherst that would allow me to design my own degree (in health sciences/ prep for public health) and it seems legit. It is provided through their University without Walls program, which is geared towards “nontraditional students”.

Yes, UMass is a legit, large, 150-year-old school, so legitimacy is not an issue. Again, I’m not qualified to advise you on whether the degree program you’ve mentioned is held in any particular esteem or disrepute by practicing professionals in that area — I have no idea — but you don’t have to worry about the school and the degree being legit.

My questions are, 1) Is this a legitimate degree program,


where I won’t have to worry about the stigma about getting a “degree online” ?

Well, you definitely don’t NEED to worry about it, that’s for sure. There are still some people out there who are going to be dismissive of online degrees. Usually, they’re either:

a) intractable, grouchy, often-older people who are set in their ways and are just angry that they had to sit through countless hours of on-campus lectures that you will not have to sit through;

b) intractable, grouchy, often-older people who are set in their ways and don’t understand how you could possibly learn anything, or at least very much, sitting in front of a computer;

c) teachers at brick-and-mortar schools who are worried about the effect that the encroachment of online classes will eventually have on their jobs.

All these things are understandable. For instance, who wants to feel like they wasted 10 years of their lives on an undergraduate degree, then a master’s, then a Ph.D, all in the hopes of teaching courses all day long to eager co-eds — just to have computers replace them? That’d scare the living hell out of me, and I’d probably push back against online courses, too.

But I’ll skip the arguments for/against online courses and simply point out the reality that this is the direction education is going. Technology saves vast amounts of money, and if colleges think online courses can provide similar value for a tiny fraction of the cost, you’ll continue to see more online courses everywhere.

My point is: whatever stigma remains about online degrees is dying off year by year as they become more common.

It’s kinda like online dating. I met my wife on an Internet dating service in 1999, and back then, when I’d tell people how we met, their jaws would hit the floor. The way some people reacted, you’d think I special-ordered her from a Serbian whorehouse.

Today, who cares? That’s how half of you met your current significant other, and if it’s not, it’s probably how you had your first 85 conversations. People get used to stuff. It’s not going to be any big deal.

and 2) Would this be a wise choice with the knowledge that I want to attend graduate school to attain my MPH? (Will I have to worry about the degree not being recognized?)

You know, I’ve actually written about the master of public health degree before, so check out that link if you’re interested in related conversations. I do know that UMass is big on pushing the idea that there’s *no difference* in the quality of education from its online arm (the tagline is, “UMass Online IS UMass.”).

I think you’re smart to investigate these things early on; however, fortunately for you, I think you’ve got very little to worry about. If you perform well in your online courses, I can’t imagine you’ll run into very many, if any, people who hold it against you in the future for finishing your last credits with online courses because you were too sick to attend.

(My health will not be a problem by grad school, as I am hoping to get a transplant that will alleviate my condition)

I’m hoping for the same. Good luck, and please visit often and let us know in the comments section how things are going!

— What about you guys? Any additional thoughts on online programs, UMass, MPH, etc.? Let us know in the comments below.

16 thoughts on “Too Sick For School. Online Degree?”

  1. I go to NC State and I remember them having a story on their website about a sick girl who did her whole degree online. I think it’s reasonable to enroll in a regular class and ask the prof to let you do the classwork online and submit it via email.

  2. No advice today, but a BIG KUDOS to you for sticking with school despite having a condition so serious you need a transplant. With a work ethic like you have, I believe you can do anything with whatever degree you obtain. Good luck!!

  3. Linfield College’s online program is excellent 🙂 Check their website to see if they have the program you’re looking for.

  4. First of all, hope all goes well if and when you get a transplant. Do not worry about taking the courses online. I had to take an online course in my MBA program at a traditional university and no one discredits that part of my education. We are at a point in education where online courses are now as legitimate as a brick-and-mortar education.

  5. I imagine your degree will say “Graduated from UMass” not “Graduated from UMass’s online division.” No one will ever know that you took it all online.

    I’ve taken dozens of hours of class online, and none of them showed up on my transcript as an online class. They show up as regular classes. Even my nursing program uses some online classes.

  6. My college (University of Minnesota, Crookston) has a few online degree programs that, from what I hear, are pretty good. I think there’s more and more “brick-and-mortar” schools that are adding online degree programs, and those are probably your best bet.

  7. My oldest sister got her teaching credentials this way. A lot of big-time colleges are now offering online programs. I know the University of Michigan-Flint is doing this, and I believe my other alma mater, Michigan State, may be doing this too. I’ve taken quite a few online classes over the years, and if you are disciplined enough to get the work done, and disciplined enough to log on every day (often a requirement), you should have no problem. And the professors I had for those online classes took the time to help me.

    You’ll find that a lot of classes also have both class and online components to them – You’d still have to go to class, but you could turn your work in online, or take many of your quizzes or tests online as well.

  8. At the University of Texas – SA there are a few classes that are ONLY offered online. Students needing those classes for their degree plan HAVE to take them online. They don’t have any other choice. I think the online class concept is quickly evolving towards the positive. Good luck, Casey!!

  9. Though my situation is a little different, academically I’m in a similar place to Casey. I took two years at a brick-and-mortar school, then took a year off for family reasons. Now I’m working full time and taking online classes through the local community college. When people ask me where I’m going to school, most of them aren’t phased by the fact that all my classes are online. Most of them, in fact, congratulate me on finding a way to stay in school despite my other obligations. And though your milage may vary, I have found my online classes to be just as challenging and rewarding as the ones that I took at the brick and mortar school. In several cases, my professors are actually *more* accessible to me than they were when my primary option for communicating was tracking them down during office hours. In short, since it sounds like you’re looking at a reputable school, I wouldn’t worry about the fact that it’s online. It’s becoming more and more common and accepted, and as long as you put in the work (which I doubt will be a problem for you) you’ll be well rewarded.

  10. All of the above are fantastic comments and suggestions, so I’m not going to add to them. They’re good, and I don’t know that I have anything better to add.

    What I can add is this (not having the entirety of your medical story): please do not over-commit if you’re leading up to a transplant. I had a transplant (many years back) and the prep and follow-up was rather rough.

    You’re hanging in there right now (and kudos to you for charging ahead!) but I’d make sure to take it slowly once your transplant prep begins if I were you. At that point, your body needs your entire attention. I think you’ve got the drive and dedication to do it and do it well, but please take care of yourself as well–your health is more important than and essential to your education.

    Then you can go right back to kicking some academic butt. 😉

  11. I have completed an A.S. online and took much of both B.S. online. I don’t have a problem with online degrees, but many employers do. It is for the reason you mentioned. There are plenty of scam schools, and even many of the major (“real”) schools’ online programs are diploma mills.

    While your degree probably won’t say UMass online, if you didn’t live near UMass, it will be obvious, it was online. Also, design your own degrees fall into the same category as online.

    I’m not trying to discourage your plan, just letting you know possible pitfalls. I also have health issues and online was my solution. My first BS lists my degree, but the other one only shows B.S. Neither degree is your standard Business degree, but my career is in non-profit and they are more forgiving of nonstandard degrees than many for-profits.

    Online prices can vary widely. U of South Carolina has online courses that are cheaper than in-state on ground courses. They don’t allow online only degrees though. Online courses may charge extra fees for online ($35/cr hr at my school), may or may not charge out of state tuition rates, may still charge activities and other fees that (in my opinion) shouldn’t be charged since you are not on campus. Some schools allow you to take strange online courses (Spanish, Chemistry, Speech being some of the more interesting ones).

    Scholarships are not always available for online courses; the school or the scholarship requirement may not allow it. My school does not offer scholarships for online. If I had taken on ground courses there, I would have qualified for $8,000 in scholarships.

    Discipline is the key. If you aren’t disciplined enough, you shouldn’t take them. I finish the work as early as possible in case there are problems. Some of my instructors post the whole class online at the start of the term (with or without test access). In these classes, you can finish up as soon as possible. They do have work due every work, and discussion posts are usually required the week due.

    Some schools allow you to start some courses anytime during the year, but most don’t and these tend to have 3 or 4 start times (Fall, Spring, Summer, mini-semester). At my school, the classes are 6 weeks long/ 8 sessions per year (imagine cramming 16 weeks into 6 so the workload is heavier), but this means many courses are offered up to 8 times during the year.

    You may find some courses are easier in person. My wife preferred some of courses in person.

    Teachers can be hit or miss. Most are very helpful and respond timely, but some don’t. That is why I do work early; that way I can hopefully get an answer if I have a slow responder.

  12. I am an online graduate student at Drexel University. Here, our diploma/transcripts do NOT specify that our classes (in fact our entire degree) are completed online. They certify that the classes are of the same caliber as on-campus classes, and therefore see no need to specify how they were taken (the information would be just as useless as listing the room number of an on-campus class).

    If you are really worried about how an online degree would “look,” search for an institution that provides both online and on-campus degrees and doesn’t specify the difference on the transcript. Not only will this help you avoid the awkward explanation in a job interview, but you can be relatively sure that the University considers the online program to be of as much value and quality as their on-campus program.

  13. I go to a very prestigious online program that is attached to a well known brick and mortar school (the school is #14 in the country in my field). The above posters are correct that the stigma is becoming less and less and soon it won’t be an issue at all. What IS still an issue is the potential technical difficulties and some issues with the curriculum itself as they struggle to figure out just how to transfer brick and mortar content into a virtual space. There are several things that I love about my program, but if I were to do it again I would definitely choose an on campus program. If your circumstances do not allow for that it is a perfectly nice way to deal with acquiring content. However, it should be noted that if you are thinking about doing online to SAVE time (you won’t have to drive and find parking… you can log in anytime you want to…. you can work on your own terms) you need to rethink. Online programs are often structured to include extra work as a way of “proving” you are working and this sometimes makes for a LOT of extra busy work so just be sure you understand exactly what it is your program expects.

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