How to Take Online College Courses

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Online college courses can help you earn a degree, improve your resume, or develop a new skill just for fun. If you’re interested in starting online college courses, this article will help you get started.

Taking Online College Courses That Lead to a Degree

A growing number of students are taking online college courses to earn their degrees. Some students earn entire degrees online, some transfer traditional college credits to an online program, and some transfer credits from their online college courses to a traditional school. Online college courses are convenient and many can be taken asynchronously, making it possible to be enrolled in a course and engaged in discussions even though you do not need to log on to a website at a specific time. Online college courses in thought-heavy topics (such as English, humanities, math, etc.) tend to be more common than online college courses covering action-specific subjects.

If you are interested in taking online college courses that lead to a degree, make sure that the school you’re choosing is properly accredited. Keep in mind that many traditional and online colleges do not easily accept credit transfers. If your plan includes transferring schools at some point, talk to counselors at both schools to make sure that your online college course credits will be approved. 

Taking Online College Courses for Professional Development

Even if you don’t want to earn an entire degree through the internet, you can take online college courses to improve your resume and develop skills that are valued in the workplace. You may choose to take online college courses ala carte. Or, you may enroll in an online professional development program. Many programs like the ​Stanford Center for Professional Development allow students to take a sequence of shorter online college courses leading to a professional certificate in a subject like project management, computer security, information technology, or sustainable energy.

Check with your workplace or experts in your field to see how a particular online college course will be received in your industry. For example, some computer certification courses that are highly coveted for secretarial work would be considered unnecessary for those employed in a managerial position.

Many students are able to take online college courses for free by asking their employers to cover the cost of their tuition. Tuition reimbursement programs are designed for employees that complete coursework or earn degrees related to their position or a position they may qualify for. Even if your employer doesn’t have a formal tuition assistance program in place, he or she may be willing to work with you to subsidize coursework that will help you do better at your job.

Taking Online College Courses for Personal Enrichment

Online college courses aren’t all about profit and degrees. Many students enroll in online college courses just to learn a skill they are interested in or explore a subject they are curious about. Some schools will allow students to take a class pass/fail so that students do not need to concern themselves with receiving grades.

As an alternative to taking online college courses through formal enrollment, you may want to explore many of the free online classes that are now available. Dozens of traditional colleges make their course lectures, assignments, and reading guides openly available to the public as open courseware. By taking free online college courses, you won’t have access to an instructor to help you through the content. Nor will you receive graded feedback. However, you will be able to work at your own pace and learn without paying a dime. There is coursework available on just about every subject, from math to anthropology.

Another option is to take advantage of the many free online courses offered outside of the education system altogether. While these aren’t technically “college” classes, many independent organizations and individuals offer in-depth instruction on a wide variety of topics. For example, Khan Academy provides down-to-earth video lectures on dozens of math topics. Many virtual learners have found these resources easier to understand more than when taking many traditional courses.