Online College Courses

How will my online college courses work? You might have a fairly traditional view of what education looks like: sitting at a desk in a classroom, with numerous other students, and a teacher giving instructions at the front of the class. This scene, with slight variations, might be the normal experience for most American students through the end of high school. Modern technology, though, has made all sorts of new classroom and learning environments possible. For a look into what it might be like taking courses online, keep reading!

What You Might Need to Take Online College Courses

Before you find out the details about taking courses online, it may help to know the basics. Namely, what might you need to complete coursework for an online degree program? Unsurprisingly, you’ll likely need a computer, specifically one with an internet connection and an updated web browser. Your computer may also need to have a CD/DVD drive. Similar to campus learning, you may need to buy textbooks to keep up with your studies. Beyond this, specific requirements may vary greatly, so make sure to request information from each particular school to know if you’ll be able to enroll in one of their programs. Keep in mind that requirements might vary from course to course. 

How Do Online College Courses Work?

Now that you know what you might need, you’re probably wondering: What are online college courses like? It’s a good question, but there might not be an easy answer. Not every online degree program may look the same. You may find that some schools offer online portals, (sometimes known as platforms), where students might be able to have an account and manage aspects of their academic lives. This could include links to support services, class listings, syllabi, grades, or even coursework. These platforms may vary from school to school; some are proprietary, or created by the school itself, while others are run on a third-party program, such as Blackboard.

As mentioned earlier, to take certain online college courses, you may need to purchase textbooks. Some online college courses, though, may feature readings that can be accessed through the school’s online learning platform or a virtual classroom. You may also be able to access discussion boards, or otherwise communicate with teachers and fellow students.

When it comes to learning, online courses may look very different in practice. Some online courses may feature video, allowing you to watch lectures from faculty online. Others may teach through live chats. Some courses may feature interactive coursework, requiring students to actively participate while learning. Since these virtual classroom environments may vary so much, you should be sure to request information from each school about how their online classes work.

Good to know! While online coursework might form the backbone of many programs, schools may sometimes offer virtual versions of other campus-related experiences, such as field work, an online orientation, or a virtual student union!

Scheduling for Online Courses

Now that you have a general idea of how to take online college classes, you may be curious what a typical course schedule might look like. Of course, like many other aspects of online learning, there may be many different ways schools choose to schedule their classes. One way online courses may differ from attending classes in person is that learning might be asynchronous. This means that students can learn at their own pace, logging in when it best fits their schedule to complete the online assignments. This isn’t to say, though, that you might be able to take as long as you want when completing a course online. There are typically still deadlines, and schools might ask that you complete a certain amount of work each week.

Beyond the weekly timing of courses, online schools may differ in that they might not follow the traditional semester schedule of many campus universities. Some schools offer online courses starting at specific dates of the year. Others may allow students to start anytime throughout the year, but only take one course at a time before moving on to the next one. Be sure to contact the school you’re interested to see if their schedule fits with your plan for online education.

Potential Online Resources for Students

One thing that prospective students might worry about when looking into earning a degree online is, “Do I have to sacrifice the resources of campus learning?” Luckily, the answer is probably not, since many online schools have ways they try to alleviate this concern. Online schools and programs offer a variety of different virtual resources, some of which might be included in the list below:

  • Online writing centers
  • Tutoring services
  • Virtual career counseling
  • Academic advising
  • Online libraries
  • Tech support
  • Virtual bookstores
  • Online student advising
  • Access to alumni networks

Not every program will have all of these resources, so make sure when you’re comparing schools to request information on this up front. It’s important to know if you’ll be well supported when taking online courses.

clep courses may be alternative to online college courses

Are there Online College Course Alternatives?

The path to each college degree may be different for everyone. There has been much talk in the past years about MOOCs (or massive open online courses). These types of online courses may be good for some they are free online learning courses that are available to thousands of students at a time.  Some students may apply for 'experience for credit', also known as competency-based learning. This type of credit enables students to earn a college degree based on their mastery of a subject rather than with classroom time and credit hours. Still, there is yet another option out there for students looking to shave off some credit hours and save some funds, the CLEP test. There are 33 different CLEP exams, all covering material one would normally encounter in the first two years of a four-year college program.  Regardless of which path may be right for you, there are alternative online college course options to fit your goals and objectives.

Mixing Online with On Campus

One important aspect of taking online courses that you should look into is whether or not a degree program can be completed fully online. Though many schools may offer programs completely over the internet, some may require campus visits, or other in-person work, in order to earn a degree and graduate. So it’s crucial to double check before enrolling in any online degree program, such as an online MBA.

Something else you might want to look into—even if campus visits are not required—is whether you’ll be able to use the resources of the campus. If you live close enough, and this is possible, you may want the option of using the facilities located at the physical school.


Another thing it’s important to look into is whether or not an online school or program is properly accredited. It is just as important for online schools and programs to be accredited as it is for brick-and-mortar schools. Accreditation is a process by which schools and programs are evaluated; it must come from a specifically recognized national, regional, or specialized accrediting agency. As a safeguard, make sure, when looking into your online education options, to only look at accredited online programs and schools.

Benefits of Online College Courses

After reading through this article, you may already have an idea of what the benefits of online learning can be, but if you’re unsure, it might mostly boil down to one thing: flexibility! Taking courses online may mean you can work from the comfort of your own home, or wherever you choose to take your computer. It might also mean you can choose the time of day, week, or even year when you want to work on your class assignments. 

This flexibility, combined with the resources that might be offered by schools to their online students, could make it a good option for you. Be sure you do enough research beforehand to know what taking courses online might look like for you. Compare and contrast programs by browsing our sponsored listings on, and, if anything catches your eye, be sure to request additional information from the school. Good luck!


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