Online colleges are similar to campus-based colleges: There are student fees, financial aid, class registration, lectures, syllabuses, discussions, assignments, and exams. The difference is that everything takes place online, so you can participate virtually anywhere, as long as you have a computer (or mobile device) and internet access. Two important things to consider as you evaluate online options:
Some courses require you to log in at specific times; others are more self-paced (though with deadlines). Most of Purdue University Global’s classes comprise two components: online classroom time and live seminars. Online classrooms are open 24 hours a day, whereas live seminars are hosted at specific times.
Some online colleges follow traditional semester time frames; others break the school year into smaller segments. For example, you might have class every day, complete assignments and tests every week, and finish that course in a month.
The online college experience has its advantages and challenges, just like an on-campus college. One isn’t necessarily better than the other, it’s more about finding the better fit for your life.
When you study at home, it’s easy to be distracted by family, friends, and household chores. Purdue Global Student Advisors recommend using a family calendar to block time for attending seminars, studying, spending time with the family, and doing chores. Post it where everyone can see it—such as the refrigerator—or use a web-based calendar that everyone can share.
You may feel somewhat isolated when you take classes from the comfort of your home. However, many online classrooms offer the opportunity to interact with your instructors and other students in discussion forums and group projects. You might also find further opportunities to engage with others. Purdue Global, for instance, offers more than 30 student clubs and organizations.
Visit the school’s social media pages and talk to students who are active. Ask them questions about their online learning experiences.
What are the computer system requirements (operating system and available space), recommended software programs (such as Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or others), and internet bandwidth recommendations? For example, Purdue Global’s web-based programs work with both PC and Mac computers, and are compatible with major web browsers.
If you’ve never taken an online college course, you can start with just one or two courses to see how these fit in with your busy home and work schedule.
Be sure you understand time requirements of the course: Are you expected to be online at specific times for seminars or discussions? Is there required participation in discussion forums? When are exams or major assignments?
Make it a point to connect with your instructor in the beginning. Establish a relationship early on, so you won’t hesitate to ask questions later.
Decide where you’ll do your coursework and make sure the space is accessible and a place you enjoy. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it has to work for you. The kitchen table may not be practical if you have to clear it off every time you need to attend a class.
Treat your online class as a priority. Utilize a planner, establish a routine, and make a schedule, just like you would with a traditional class. Many online learning platforms offer a student dashboard you can use to help you stay organized.