No doubt you’ve heard the phrase “the college experience” at some point in your life. If you’re considering earning a degree through an online college program, you may wonder if there is any way for you to get the same experience as traditional students. There are many pros and cons of getting an online degree, but the experience you will have doesn’t fall neatly into either category. You may miss out on some experiences, but you may also have the opportunity to develop new strengths that your peers on traditional programs might not develop.

Defining the College Experience

In a major way, whether or not you will be missing out on the college experience as an online student hinges on what the college experience means to you. Is it about drunken parties or networking opportunities? Does your ideal version of the college experience include access to on-campus library materials and academic facilities or simply all the pizza you can eat?

If you have the kind of non-academic responsibilities that tend to make online college degree programs so appealing in the first place, like family obligations or a full-time job with a rigid schedule, it’s likely that the parties, pizza and beer are experiences that you would have to miss out on even if you did choose to attend traditional courses on campus. Your life is no less busy and fulfilling if you don’t gain the “freshman 15.” While these aspects may be a required part of the college experience at a party school, they won’t help you succeed academically, advance your career or take care of a family.

The Online College Experience

As an online student, you will be required to take on more responsibility and exercise more discipline than students in traditional programs. By the time you complete an online degree program, you will have learned how to stay organized and motivated and to manage your time without the constant reminders of a professor. These are valuable skills in nearly any career path, but they are not necessarily skills that your on-campus counterparts have developed. Your online workload has forced you to be mature, where traditional students may leave an associate’s or bachelor’s degree program without having developed that maturity.

As students increasingly turn to online college degree programs, experts predict that schools will begin “selling the college experience” in the future, according to The Atlantic. This may include virtual and in-person opportunities for students and alumni to network and enhanced extracurricular activities for online students.

When you think about what you personally want to get out of your college experience, think about what factors will help you achieve your goals rather than what movies and television shows portray as the true college experience. Earning your degree and preparing for your future career should be among the most important goals, and you can certainly accomplish both of these objectives through your online degree program.