Guide to Taking an Online Course
1. Finding the Right Online Course
Depending on your major or subject of focus, you could have a lot of options in front of you when it comes to choosing the best school from which to take your online course. The easiest way to get started is to use a directory resource such as our list of online schools, where you can explore a variety of online colleges and the programs they offer before choosing the one that meets your academic or professional needs.
It is smart to first create a list of potential online courses for your subject and degree level, then narrow your list down to the two or three schools that offer the best combination of assets for your budget. For example, which schools offer associate’s degrees in criminal justice? Do they also offer career services, and are they accredited by the appropriate agency? Narrowing your search by degree or by program can make it easier if you know what you’re looking for.
Additionally, some online courses are offered by schools that operate only online, while others are offered as extensions of campus-based schools. Still others, such as in the case of MOOCs, are offered in conjunction with a course that actually takes place in a classroom. The type of online course determines when they accept new students and how many can enroll. This is one piece of information school representatives can give you.
Finally, speak with representatives from each of the schools to get more specific information about program offerings, career directions, the student experience and other concerns. Once you have one or two good schools in mind, it’s time to think about applying.
2. Applying and Enrolling
Online schools and career institutes typically accept new students through an online application process. This includes filling out a series of online forms concerning your previous education and personal information, and paying an application fee that is usually non-refundable. You may need to submit grade transcripts from previous schools, especially if you plan to apply previous college credit. Test scores may also be required for certain programs, such as GMAT scores for an online MBA program or GRE scores for other graduate programs.
Some online schools, like traditional colleges, ask for additional information, such as:
- Resume or CV
- Letter(s) of Recommendation
- Personal Essay or Statement
You also have the opportunity to request financial aid, though the details of your specific aid are usually outlined at a later point. You may also want to see this list of unusual scholarships for online students.
Once your application has been processed and approved, which may take several weeks, you are clear to make use of the school’s web-based student resources for adding classes.
3. Choosing Online Classes
Online degree programs work much the same way traditional campus-based programs do with regard to requesting classes and setting up course schedules. Typically you log into the school’s online student center using a secure login, where you may add classes, pay tuition fees, check on financial aid status, look up textbook information, and perform any other technical actions necessary for enrollment and registration. Your school’s student center may be an extension of the school’s main website, or it may be a separate, secure site. Lists of required courses are usually posted on the school’s public website.
Since different school departments oversee different courses, it is possible some classes may require permission from a particular department. For example, a business student may need permission from the economics department to add ad ECON prerequisite course. This can usually be accomplished by emailing the appropriate department, and permission is generally given quickly to accommodate class registrations.
Once your classes are added and approved and all technical details have been settled, you are clear to begin taking your online courses on the scheduled start date.
4. Attending Class
Academics are the only aspect of taking an online course that is distinctly different from a traditional, classroom-based school experience. With an online education program, you may study and attend class sessions by logging in through the school’s website. This is the primary benefit of learning online, as it can be done from any location and from most normal computers.
As with a traditional course, you have an instructor who assigns course assignments, with regular due dates. However, instruction takes the form of online reading, illustrations and PowerPoint-style presentations rather than face-to-face lectures. Students communicate with each other and with the instructor through online message boards, chat, email and other Web-based methods. Students may occasionally meet in person to work on assignments together, but this is entirely optional. Assignments may sometimes take the form of group projects, with students bearing the responsibility of coordinating independently of the instructor.
The most challenging aspect of taking an online course is maintaining focus. With distractions at home, most students report staying on task as the most difficult part of taking an online class. And as with most things, what you get out of your online learning experience is equal to what you put into it. Be sure to check this guide to balancing online classes with full-time employent.
Similar to the online studying process, taking tests in an online course is done through the school website using the same tools used in class. Students may log in to complete open-note tests at any time during a specified window of time, submitting the finished test through the website or through email.
Alternatively, the students may all log in at a pre-arranged time date and time and take the test together, with the instructor monitoring their progress online. In some cases, the instructor may communicate with students through chat during the testing process to make sure they are on task. Here is an explanation of online test taking, for your information.
Testing processes may vary from school to school, and even from test to test, so you may consider asking school representatives about testing at their online college.