When online colleges first appeared, many people flocked to them as simpler ways to take classes and get a degree or GED while working around a job. Unfortunately, many of them were unaccredited, leaving students with useless degrees that cost a lot. However, these schools were only the beginning for online education. They ushered in a new era for students to go to any school from the comfort of their own living rooms.
Now, many of those unaccredited colleges have obtained accreditation from the Department of Education. They are joined by traditional brick-and-mortar schools in offering a wide selection of degree and certificate programs. From your local community college to the Ivy League, online education has caught on, especially for people who work.
Flattening the curve of the COVID-19 pandemic required social distancing, which affected schools all over because classrooms were too big to meet quarantine requirements. Many grade schools turned to online classes to allow students to continue school, but online classes had been offered even to high school students well before the pandemic. Today, online classrooms help students from kindergarten to college with learning, socializing, and critical thinking.
Colleges are offering almost their entire curriculums online, leaving very few that need to be taken in person. Even many classes that require physical activity can be taught online, including music, art, some sports, medicine and mechanics. All the core classes, such as math, compositional writing, and freshman and sophomore humanities, are online. Each college catalogue is different, but students can obtain a degree in almost any subject most schools have available.
Practical courses that require interaction with materials, such as mechanics, biology and medical sciences, and science labs, might be the only ones a student has to attend in person. Some schools might also have a required number of classes that must be taken in-person on campus, but even these usually compliment online courses.
Many advanced degrees can also be obtained largely online. Students who seek graduate degrees and advanced certifications can take up to three quarters of their classes online. Continuing education might be required for some professions as well, even at the Associate’s or Bachelor’s level. Colleges and universities are even offering this education online.
Much is made of the discipline and determination required to take online classes. It is absolutely true that they are every bit as challenging as their in-person counterparts. However, getting a degree, or even a GED, is otherwise very easy. This is because one of the biggest benefits is that online classes tend to be more flexibly scheduled.
The most common type of online class has students reading class material, watching lectures, and having discussions on a class forum while uploading homework to a class portal. A common portal is Blackboard, but many schools have their own unique portals. Typically, classes structured this way have weekly assignments and due dates, allowing the student to manage their own time and work at their own pace during the week.
Some classes do have scheduled lectures. These might require a camera or at least a speaker and microphone, and class participation is live and in real time. Sometimes students are asked to work in groups, requiring breakout meetings either during class or some other time during the week.
The schedule structure is otherwise the same as those without scheduled lectures, depending on the intensity of the class. Composition classes are often structured with lectures so students can discuss their ideas and topics. Students in live lecture classes often attend class during work breaks from mobile devices, such as cell phones, laptops and tablets.
Succeeding at online classes is a matter of doing a little bit of the work each day, especially on big projects. Math classes, science classes, and literature classes might have a lot of reading or homework. It can take hours to do at once and will easily burn a student out.
The flexible schedule is not an excuse to wait until the last minute. It’s a lot like working from home, because earning a degree is work. Discipline is a necessity, but so is knowing when to take breaks, especially if you are balancing this job with a career, parenthood, and other responsibilities.
Even with all that in mind, managing time for attending online classes can be surprisingly simple. When you can do your coursework at 3 a.m., during a long shift with a lot of downtime, or while your young children are napping, it takes a lot of the pressure away from keeping up. Doing a little bit each day and larger chunks when you have more time can even out homework in your busy schedule.
All classes have text to read, but many online classes have the text right there on the class portal. This means that to access the textbook or other course materials, all you have to do is log in. In fact, thanks to the versatility of the Internet, many professors and instructors are not even using textbooks. Instead, they are referring students directly to studies, academic articles, and online resources such as Khan Academy or the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Everyone who has ever paid for a college textbook knows they are very expensive, even when bought used. Tuition rates for online courses are usually the same as for classroom courses, but books can add hundreds of dollars to the total bill for college. Online courses remove this huge expense, which saves money for people paying for themselves and can even earn money for people on grants and scholarships.
Another benefit of using online resources is that students can be exposed directly to concepts and ideas rather than have them summarized. Art students can view works of art from museums around the world, while psychology students are shown the films made of famous studies. Students in natural sciences such as chemistry, physics, biology, and astronomy can explore on scales ranging from microscopic to intergalactic.
Online classes are also eco friendly. Hundreds of pages of books per student are now online, where they can be read on any device or printed out as needed. Homework is uploaded directly to the class, often not needing to be printed out. Most school portals accept multiple formats, but the most popular ones, such as Powerpoint presentations, Microsoft Word documents, and PDF files, are almost always accepted.
For some people, math is as simple as talking. For the rest of us, math is a miasma of numbers, letters, and symbols that is like an entirely separate language. Many students have suffered through math lectures only to walk away confused and frustrated by complicated equations and confusing formulas.
One area where online education excels is in the structure of math classes. Examples can be demonstrated interactively, whether algebra, calculus or statistics, so online students are led through math problems step by step at their own pace. Advanced classes also feature detailed lessons on how to use computing equipment, such as a graphing or statistics calculator.
Since much of math is memorizing formulae, the various math-centered portals used by many online schools enhance learning by allowing students to interact with formulae and memorize them gradually. For students that wrestle with math, this is an easier way of learning and retaining the material.
Colleges and universities have two ways of charging for classes. Each class is worth a certain number of credits, and a common way is to charge per credit. A few schools also charge per class, where a class grants a few credits, usually 3-4. Students are welcome to pay tuition on their own in cash or with a credit card if they are able.
Students enrolled in online college courses at an accredited college are also eligible to apply for financial aid using the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). Filling out this form determines your eligibility for a variety of loans and grants. It is possible, through federal aid, not only to have your tuition fully paid but to also have a little left over to help you with supplies and bills.
If a student is ineligible for grants, there are other options that can help. Student loans are one way that many people avail of. These can get expensive, but also rewarding if you are willing to invest in yourself.
Work study programs allow students to get on-campus jobs while paying for school. Each school has a financial aid department that can be visited or contacted online. They can provide students with different options for work-study or other forms of tuition payment.
Scholarships are another option for students who can meet the standards. There are scholarships for almost everyone – national heritage, hobbies and interests, sports other than the famous ones, public service, and even programs from corporations. While good grades are the most common way to earn a scholarship, there are a lot of sources that are just waiting to give money to people who want to earn a degree. Sometimes, all it takes to get one is to be yourself.
The General Equivalency Diploma (GED) is a high school diploma for people who don’t attend high school. This might include people who were homeschooled, people who wanted to enter the workforce early, and many others whose needs are better met by obtaining a diploma early. The GED can be a gateway to community college, and classes to obtain one are often offered by local colleges.
Other high school students with individual or special needs have also had online classes to help them obtain high school diplomas with regional accreditation, such as the New York State Regents. Some of these classes might even work with local colleges and universities to double as college credits. High school students should see if their school has any such partnerships, as this is another valuable way to get a head start on earning a degree.
Your search engine is a good place to start looking for online academic programs available to you. The first suggestions are usually nearby colleges, universities, and vocational training centers. There are also numerous school search finders, which are like search engines that specialize in schools. Many of them rank schools by reviews and ratings determined by students who attended.
Not all schools offer every major, and most Associate’s degrees only cover core classes and a few foundation electives. Finding the right school for your needs involves making sure the right classes are available to give you a good foundation in your major. Some schools are well known and respected in certain majors.
Many schools offer a limited number of majors within a few disciplines, such as medical schools, liberal arts schools, or science and technology schools. Larger universities are collections of smaller schools under one banner. Universities also differ from colleges in that they offer graduate classes as well as undergraduate Bachelor’s degree classes.
The best place to check for course availability is the individual course catalog for each college. Since there are thousands of colleges, this means narrowing down your choices to the ones most likely to have the courses you want. Then you can narrow it down further by checking the course catalogs for recent years, which are usually on the college website.
The college website can also tell you if online courses and degrees are available at all, but since it’s become so common to earn some or all of a degree online, most colleges have robust online offerings. Many sites have the required classes for each degree right there for anyone to view, or the information is detailed in the course catalog.
No matter what your degree or college aspirations, one thing you need to take classes online is a reliable Internet connection. With video classes, uploading homework, downloading coursework, and all the other needs to get an online degree, students need fast Internet they can depend on. If you want to know if your Internet is fast enough, put your zip code here or call 1-833-933-2468. You can compare plans and rates in your area, even if you already have service, to make sure you are getting the best.
The first step to an online degree is getting online, so why wait?