Is it worth paying full tuition for online classes?

“Is it worth it to pay college tuition if my kid is just going to taking classes online from his bedroom?”

– Kyle, parent of a high school senior

The traditional American college experience isn’t simply about academics.

There’s the social aspect: making friends, maintaining and ending relationships, getting along with a roommate who likes the room at 78 degrees when you want it no higher than 69.

There’s the adulting aspect: learning how to roast turkey, pay rent, read the buttons on a laundry machine, set up direct deposit.

There’s the work aspect: delving into fascinating molecular biology research at late hours in the lab, befriending professors and asking them to put in a good word for you at a first job, or simply handing in a resume at the local Starbucks.

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When college goes online, many of these non-academic growth opportunities shrink. Relationships with fellow freshmen might feel more distant when your son doesn’t have to spend 10 hours a day sharing a 12 x 15 foot room. Professors might not seem as available to chat about life when they can easily click “End Meeting” at the end of the Zoom lecture. And the laundry machine won’t look much different if your son will still be living at home.

It’s still possible to meet new friends in virtual clubs and land online internships, of course. But it’s a little harder compared to a world in which college students could meet friends by simply eating lunch in a dining hall or signing on an internship by showing up at an on-campus recruiting event at the student center.

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Since colleges nowadays seem to think that academic instruction is the only or most important part of college, we can assume that as long as remote learning is prioritized, the other benefits of college won’t be.

Who knows how the vaccine will change this. But in the event that change happens slowly and colleges stay online, here are some questions to ask yourself to figure out if it’s worth it:

Importance of college name brand

Does the name brand of the eventual degree warrant the cost of attendance, even if it’s online? For some, a degree from Yale matters immensely, even if the experience ends up being just sitting in front of a computer all day in their childhood bedroom.

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