Is an Online Degree Right for Me?


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It is normal to have some doubt about the commitment and the work involved taking an online university level qualification. You may be returning to study, it could be your first experience of higher education or online study.

For most people, the concerns break down into three areas:

  • Self-confidence about university-level study
  • Time available to dedicate to study.
  • Costs.


Below, we’ll cover common questions and concerns about returning to study online.


It’s a Big Commitment; What If I Hate It or Don’t Enjoy the Study, Content, or Assessments?

The first and most crucial step is finding the right course and knowing how the course will help you achieve your goals. These goals could include career progression, licence to practice, professional body membership, changing career, or securing higher-paying roles.

For others, the goals can be around personal development and growth- gaining new skills, developing creative practice, or immersing yourself in a subject you are passionate about.

Being clear about your goals and understanding how online learning can help you achieve them is your first step. Ways to help you identify this can be as simple and easy as speaking to friends and family and getting their feedback to researching careers and job listings. Once you have identified possible courses, ask the university if you can speak with current and past students to get their perspective. This can be invaluable when making your final choice of where to study.

However, the biggest factor that impacts success most is whether you will enjoy and benefit from the study.

What Is Studying Online Like?

Studying an undergraduate or postgraduate course on-campus or online differs from college and school. Students at this level are expected to be self-reliant and motivated. Degree and Master’s students require self-discipline, good time management, as well as an interest in the subject and learning.

Modern online classes are very different from the old way of distance learning and involves a mixture of live and recorded lectures, asynchronous forums, activities and tasks mixed with real-time tutorials with academics and fellow students. In precisely the same way as an on-campus course, most of a student’s time is used for self-directed study and working on the assignments.

Once you have gained admission to an online degree, universities want you to succeed and gain the most from the learning experience. Each university will have developed its online learning, teaching and resources differently, offering varying amounts of live and recorded lectures, tutor contact and duration allowable to complete the qualification.

We have a detailed guide to modern online learning that covers the taking an online degree can involve.


Do You Have the Time for Part-Time Study?

There is no easy answer to this question. Each individual studies at their own pace and can spend different amounts of time to get the same work completed as another person on the same course. While time management skills can be learnt and honed, you still need to have the actual time available to dedicate to an online degree.

Getting a clear idea of the time involved and comparing courses can be tricky as each university’s online learning time commitments will differ slightly depending on how they have structured the course and the flexibility and timeframes involved. Some universities offer fixed 2 year, part-time MA courses while others can be spread over up to 5 years.

The majority of online student are also have full time job and are juggling study around their existing commitments. We have created a part-time study calculator to help you plan when you could fit study in to your schedule and show you how long it could take to gain a university qualifications.


UK-regulated higher-level qualifications are required to take equivalent amounts of effort and time across education providers. This effort and time are measured in CATS Points, also called credits.

Each CATS point is based on 10 hours of study, with degrees rated at 360 CATS points and Master’s Degrees at 180 CATS points. You can read more about CATS points and the time to complete university-level qualifications here.


How Difficult Is Online Learning at University Level?

University-level study is classed as higher education, and the expectation on students is greater than in college and school. When taking a higher level qualification you are responsible for your own progress and keeping pace with the course.

These expectations are the same for online and on-campus, full-time and part-time students. In addition, most online students also juggle work and family commitments, so time management is crucial.

Universities have a duty of care and do not want to see people fail on their online degree programmes. Each university sets its entry requirements to make sure the course is challenging but not impossible for the students. If you are unsure about your suitability, look at the requirements of a few online programmes that interest you to get a feeling if you are at the right level. If you still have doubts, contact the university admissions team and get their feedback on your suitability to apply.


If you are worried about your suitability to study at a particular level or topic, you can prepare and take action before you start your degree online.  There are many online short courses that can either focus on a subject or study skills, such as essay writing or note taking. These courses can be a great way to understand if online learning is right for you and to give you the confidence to get the most out of your degree study.


What If Happens If I Start to Struggle with Online Learning?

While this situation is rare, a course may go from being challenging to a struggle for any number of reasons.

UK Universities offering online courses generally have a dedicated student support team in addition to the tutors who are available to help. Whenever an online student feels they are struggling to keep up with the course, they should be proactive and reach out to the support contacts as soon as possible. They can offer advice and have years of experience guiding students through rough patches while on a course.

Most universities understand that their online students are juggling other life commitments while they are studying and appreciate that circumstances can change while on a course.

To help with this you can normally opt for a study pause while enrolled on an online degree or master’s. This allows students to take a break from the course and pick up where they left off at a later date. Depending on how the university has structured the course it can be for a term to a year in duration.



Can I Afford to Study at University Online?

Taking an online degree or Master’s can be cheaper than taking an on-campus course. For most online degrees, you will need to budget £4K to £7K per academic year and between £7 and £13K for an online master’s degree. The fees can typically be spread over the duration of the course.

We have put together a number of resources around funding options for an online degree that you can use to help you understand what support is available.

Can I Get a Refund?

If the worst happens and you want to leave the course before the end, you may get some of your fees back pro rata if you paid in full. Most universities will be flexible up to a point.

However, for most online degrees, students can opt to pay via an instalment plan where students pay for the term ahead. Some universities even offer monthly payment options so that if the worst happens and you need to withdraw you would not be liable for the next term’s fees.

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