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Being Prepared for the Differences Between Online and On-the-Ground Doctoral Programs

The influx of online doctoral programs over the last 10-15 years has been, in many ways, amazing. Online programs have given doctors-to-be a better chance of finding a specialized degree, studying at their program of choice, and optimizing their time and resources (think of never having to rush from work to school to home - class is just a few steps down the hall). Overall, having a program that includes an asynchronous component has proven to be a positive influence on student matriculation. But, while growth in the availability of online doctoral programs has made a doctorate more accessible, you also have to be careful not to underestimate the additional challenges you accept as part of that package. Online programs mean less connection with campus and colleagues, distance from school resources, and a loss of the ability to mentally focus when you’re “at school” versus locked in a room at home and still vulnerable to “regular life.” Students in online programs regularly report greater challenges in dealing with the isolation that plagues doctoral students once they reach the dissertation-writing phase of their programs. And, it is important to note that not all programs labeled 'online' are the same; the design and structure of online programs vary greatly and on a number of factors. This is not to say online programs are bad or to avoid them - but, be aware of those unspoken challenges if you do choose to go online because it does make a difference. There’s a reason why attrition rates are even higher for online programs than on-the-ground ones - the importance of self-regulation, stress management, and intrinsic motivation are incredibly higher for students in online programs. Knowing this upfront means you can be better prepared and avoid becoming another doctoral statistic.

You can read more about the effects of studying in an online doctoral program and the other factors that affect degree completion in Becoming Dr. Dad

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