What’s it Like to Take College Classes Online?

Students across the nation are gearing up for another academic year of college to start and many of them are headed into online classrooms for the very first time.  It is an exciting point in the lives of many because the start of a new school year means there are almost endless opportunities that come along with achieving your educational goals and making something of your life. At the same time, however, a lot of these very same students are very nervous about what to expect from online college classes and if they have what it takes to succeed.  This article will shed some light in that area.

Pursuing the College Dream- Enrollment and College Advisors

The First Few Days
One of the more worrisome aspects of attending an online college is the initial contact and the search for new information- since the student cannot walk through an actual campus and get a feel for the surroundings; it leaves plenty of room for doubt.  Most of that fear will be cast aside once you meet your college advisor for the first time, however, and you can rest assured that they are physically committed to you reaching your goals.  You can ask this person anything (really…anything) about what it is like to take classes online and they will be more than happy to answer your questions over the phone or through email.

Financial Aid
Once you decide that a certain online school is right for you, your conversations with the college advisor will shift towards how you intend to pay for your education and the various sources of funding available to help you out.  They will likely ask you to fill out a form called the FAFSA as quickly as possible since it qualifies you for state and federal aid, so be sure to make this a priority as soon as you know which institution is right for you.

Scheduling the First Semester
This is also the time that you’ll choose your first few courses and prepare for the start of the new semester.  How many classes you’ll start out with depends on which online college you select; some will allow new students to take 2-3 classes their first term while others prefer them to start with just one.  A lot of distance learning universities also offer an introduction class (that may or may not be mandatory) and it is highly advisable to take this course since it will get you used to the online classroom, where to find your assignments, how to contact instructors, and several other important pieces of information.  Always remember that your college advisor can also answer all of these questions for you as well.

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Taking the Plunge- The First Few Weeks of Class

Adjusting to Technology
While every online college is slightly different, it is fairly safe to say that it will probably take you a few weeks to get used to the learning system.  In most cases, you will have a classroom homepage that shows all of your scheduled assignments, tests, and homework due for the week, plus a list of other resources like eBooks, contact information, classroom chat forums, and other multimedia resources.  It really is a whole lot to take in at first but the important part is that you do not let it overwhelm you; it does get easier.  In fact, a lot of older students that have almost no computer literacy skills can usually be up to speed within 2-3 weeks…just give yourself a chance and contact your peer advisor whenever any questions arise.

Meeting Your Instructors
First of all, it will probably help you to know that most colleges require their instructors to complete an online degree before they can actually be certified to teach.  Remember this because that means they were in your exact position in the not-too-distant past and most of them realize that it is a humbling experience.  With that said, know that online college professors are under massive pressure from the faculty to make you feel welcome and as comfortable as possible.  That’s why online teachers are usually very laid back when compared to their traditional counterparts.  Of course, a few of them are still jerks but in the distance learning profession those types of teachers are more the exception than the actual rule.

Attending Your 1st Class
Part of your weekly requirement will be attending actual college classes online.  Don’t worry, it’s not as bad as you’d expect, because in many cases there will not be a set time that you have to log in and view the instructors.  Instead, you’ll be able to watch the lectures at your own convenience and weigh in on the topic via a class discussion board that all of your other classmates will use.  It may sound a little bit complicated at first but you’ll quickly get the hang of it.

Anyway, the teacher’s lecture is a lot like sitting inside any college classroom in America; the instructor talks and you listen. If there is something that you’re not completely clear about then you can always email the instructor for further clarification or you can post the question on the class message board and get the answer that way (possibly from another student).  It is a fun, simplified way to learn and most students do very well with the openness and freedom of online classes.

Completing Your 1st Assignments and Tests
Another part of your weekly class grade will come from the assignments that will be turned in.  These can vary from multiple choice or fill-in-the-blank type worksheets to short essay questions and answers, depending on which online university you decide to attend.  You’ll also probably have a reading component tied into the week’s lessons and there are periodic writing assignments that are due.  It may sound like a lot of work but believe it or not, you’ll usually have only a fraction of the homework that traditional students face.

The testing schedule of your online college is a little bit more difficult to talk about because many institutions do not have them at all!  I know, it sounds crazy, but a number of schools feel that your dedication to a subject shows through your regular homework assignments and there’s no reason to force students to “cram” for something that they already seem to have a decent grasp on.  Other online universities do have weekly quizzes and tests but there usually is a study guide available as well. Overall, there’s nothing to worry about when it comes to online testing.

Making the Cut- Grinding Your Way to Graduation

Accelerated Classes
Many online colleges offer accelerated class formats for many of their subjects and it is a great way to graduate early.  Now, don’t think for a minute that this means that these classes are easy; you may end up finishing them in half the time but you’ll also have to put in a lot of extra work each week to be able to keep up.  The funny thing is that a lot of students actually prefer the fast-paced format so you’ll definitely want to try a class or two once you’re comfortable with the online classroom.

Then again, if accelerated classes are not for you…no problem.  There’s nothing written in stone that says you have to graduate fast and many students can only take one or two classes per semester because of busy workloads in other parts of their lives.  One of the best things about online college classes is that you truly set the pace.

Setting Goals and Meeting Them
Then again, it is very easy to take a semester or two off and unfortunately, the vast majority of these students never do return to the classroom at all.  That’s why it is crucially important for students to take a semester or two to figure out the rate at which they feel comfortable learning, and then create a plan for when they will receive their diploma.  The sooner you decide on a suitable time-allotment to graduate the better and no matter what, do not give up until you reach it.

Reaching Graduation
Believe it or not, almost all online colleges have brick and mortar campuses inside the United States and you will be invited to the one closest to you in order to walk the stage in cap and gown with the other graduates.  Now, this is completely optional, of course, but becoming a college graduate is certainly not an easy task in today’s world and you should not be any less proud because you completely your classes remotely.  In fact, this is usually the first time many students get to meet their peers that they have studied with for years…it is definitely worth considering anyway.

Final Thoughts

Even though taking classes online is certainly not for everyone, a growing number of students are now realizing that it is hard to beat the relaxed standards and all of the extra time they have on their hands because of it.  If you are unsure if distance learning is right for you, the best way to proceed is to contact an enrollment advisor at an online university that you are considering and ask to take an evaluation course within your intended field of study.  Most college will allow you to attend the first 2-4 weeks completely free of charge and this is more than enough time for the average person to decide if it’s a good fit for their lifestyle.