Why is it that every time I open my mouth and say I am a student in an online university, I immediately have to follow up with a series of reasons, detailed explanations, etc? Am I not a “real” counselor if I attend school online? Is my education not “real”? Are the others (counselors) looking at me thinking that I am not as good as they are because they followed the traditional model of education and I don’t? Why am I afraid to tell potential employers that my degree comes from an online university, even though my program is CACREP accredited?
And again, why do I always find myself thinking and sometimes –depending on the situation- saying: “it’s not that I am stupid, my husband works for the government and we move a lot. I would not be able to finish a degree in a brick-and-mortar school, reason why I had to choose the only alternative left, an online program”. Does it really matter where my learning of theories and concepts takes place? Am I not reading the same books, participating in class discussions, regardless of where I am? After all, my online program requires me to take 1000 hours of supervision during my practicum and internship and although my teacher is in a different corner of the country, my supervisors are right here with me. I am sure much has been written about the pros and cons of online vs. face-to-face learning. There are benefits on both sides, but there are also drawbacks.
One common theme –and reasons why I decided to write about this- present in studies pertaining to online vs. traditional learning is the employer’s perception of online degrees. It appears that in a study “ (…)as many as 98 percent of 109 employers surveyed would prefer to hire the candidate with the traditional degree” (Columbaro, 2009). With these numbers in sight, should I be concerned with the decision I made? Don’t get me wrong, the program I am currently in is absolutely wonderful and I am learning a lot, but if most employers have their minds set on candidates from traditional programs, do I even stand a chance?
Since I come from a traditionalistic society, my entire education up to now has been in face-to-face format. Even though at the time I was attending college there were several options for online learning, there was no discussion about which one I should pick.
Granted I come from a very different culture with very different values than the American ones, I must say that up until I moved to America my personal opinion of distance learning has been quite negative. Sure, back home teens and adolescents are not expected or even encouraged to work especially due to the fact that college is free, so choosing an online education doesn’t really make sense; the situation is quite different in the US where most college students have to work in order to support themselves and their education.
Also, Eastern Europeans don’t move much –unlike Americans- so again, why would one need to attend an online program when chances are, he/she will be in the same city for the rest of their life. Lastly, throughout my college years, all internship opportunities were the university’s “problem”. It was the school’s responsibility to place its students at internship sites, all we had to do was show up. Now the situation is quite different, not only because one has to interview in order to get an internship, but also because –as is the case of online universities- students have to go on their own, many times without any help from the school, to find a site.
This is where it gets so puzzling –to me, at least: Since I am attending an online program, I don’t have as much of a chance to network like students in traditional programs. Although I am a member of a number of counseling related organizations and divisions, it’s still pretty tough to get out there. The questions remain, how do we –the ones attending online programs- find those internships (especially since most clinics accept students only from the local universities) and what can we do to change the general employer’s perception ?
Reference: Columbaro, N. (2009). Employer Perceptions of Online Degrees: A Literature Review. Online Journal of Distance Learning Administration, XII/1, 2.
Diana C. Pitaru is a counselor-in-training, and a student at Walden University. Her theoretical interests are in Gestalt, Art, and Narrative therapy while focusing on multicultural issues and eating disorders.