Tips for Taking Online College Courses

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During my four years of college I took several online courses. Although I was a traditional student, taking most of my classes in person, I found that taking classes online was, in many cases, a great alternative. My experience taking these non-traditional classes gave me some good insights into what it takes to be successful as an online student. Here are some tips:

  1. Research Ahead of Time – As with any college course, it is usually a good idea to do some research on the course and the professor before registering. Sites like ratemyprofessor.com can provide useful information, but the best sources are your fellow students. Sometimes you may be able to get a sneak peek at the course syllabus on the department’s website, which is even better. Keep in mind when getting comments about a professor online or in person that the person you are hearing from may not be the same kind of student you are. For example, if you typically make straight As, you may want to disregard some complaints about difficult tests or strict grading of papers. I found that many negative comments about professors come from lazy students venting their own failures. Getting the cold hard facts on things like number and length of papers, frequency of tests, and number of assignments is most useful.
  2. DO NOT Buy Textbooks Ahead of Time – One semester I registered for an online Anthropology course, and when I went to pick up my books I found that the class required a single textbook for $200. I decided that, rather than paying that insane amount of money, I would roll the dice and begin the class without the book. I came to find out that all of the tests were exclusively multiple-choice and allowed enough time for me to look up the answers online. Almost all of the information needed to answer the questions could be found with a simple Google search. In the end, I saved $200 and earned a B in the class. So, start the course and give it some time to see if you might be able to survive without spending all that cash on a book. Most in-person classes have daily readings and class discussions that make it impossible to avoid buying the textbook, so this is a distinct advantage of online classes.
  3.  Check the Course Website Every Day – Without a human being breathing down your neck, it is easy to lose track of important deadlines. Generally summer classes require you to log in every weekday, while fall and spring classes designate two or three days out of the week when you must appear online. It is usually best, however, to check at least once every day of the week if possible. New assignments and announcements can pop up any time, and it is up to you to keep track of them all.

These are the best of my online course-taking tips, leave your comments and questions and check back later for more advice on saving time and money with online classes.