Online college college classes give you the flexibility to study from anywhere — your bedroom, home office, or even a coffee shop. Having the option to take some (or all) of your classes online can also make it easier to balance school with other commitments, such as a full-time job or family responsibilities.
However, online learning also comes with some challenges. It can be difficult to focus if you’re not in an actual classroom. Plus, virtual learning can make it harder to make connections with professors and other students at the school.
Read on for a closer look at how online classes work, their pros and cons, and how to make the most of virtual learning.
Types of Online Classes
There are two main types of online classes. Here’s a closer look at each.
A hybrid course is a mix of in-person instruction and remote learning. The exact schedule will vary by school, class, and instructor, but may include several hours of live or prerecorded virtual learning per week with one in-person session. For example, a chemistry course could include virtual learning and in-person lab work.
Hybrid courses offer the benefits of remote learning without fully abandoning in-person instruction, making it a prime choice for students concerned that online classes may not meet their needs.
Classes that are all virtual never meet in person. Instruction is given through live webinars, prerecorded video, and physical or digital material.
Depending on the format of the course, students can fit sessions into their schedule as they see fit, an option not provided by a hybrid or traditional class.
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Benefits and Potential Pitfalls of Virtual Courses
While virtual learning is ideal for some students, it may be frustrating for others. Here’s a look at some of the pros and cons of taking college courses online.
Pros of Online Courses
Flexibility: The ability to learn whenever and wherever can be a huge advantage for a student with a hectic schedule. Though there are still deadlines and due dates to abide by, learning can typically take place around work, social commitments, and personal preferences. While some courses may include live remote sessions, they’re typically recorded and available for students to view at a later time.
Real-life experience: Online courses tend to put more responsibility on the student. Learning how to prioritize instruction in a flexible schedule can help prepare students for careers.
Potential savings: If a course was designed to be taught in person but has recently been adapted for online instruction, a discount may not be available. But for courses originally built for virtual learning, students often find they can save on the average credit cost. An online degree might also have a condensed schedule. allowing you to get your degree faster.
There are other savings to consider. With online instruction, students generally don’t have to worry about paying for parking, gas, or lunch on the go. Plus virtual learning can allow you to pursue an education while working full or part time, an option not always available to in-person students.
Recommended: How to Pay for Online College
Potential Cons of Online Courses
Minimal social benefits: One potential downside to taking a class online is lack of personal interaction. You might find it harder to ask the teacher questions and make connections with fellow students. And, some students simply respond better to in-person vs. online learning, and might struggle to concentrate when learning virtually.
A lack of professional networking: Students often discover opportunities to build relationships with professors and assistants that can lead to careers. Virtual learning makes these relationships more difficult to find and develop.
Scheduling conflicts: While the flexibility of online classes can be appealing, it can create scheduling conflicts. If you are challenged by time management, you may find yourself procrastinating and struggling to manage your workload along with other everyday responsibilities.
Tips for Online Classes
Here are some words to the wise for taking online courses, for both newbies and experienced virtual students.
• Respect the course. Do you suspect that an online course has less value than in-person instruction? The educational value is the same. It’s just being delivered in a different fashion.
• Think about time management. Even experienced virtual students can often improve their time management skills. Review the syllabus at the start of the semester, note major assignments, and look for potential conflicts.
• Try to avoid distractions. When taking online courses, it might be best not to set up in front of the TV, as tempting as it may be. Consider cobbling together a home office that blocks distractions and creates a productive environment.
• Participate. While an online class can be an introvert’s dream, there are still opportunities to participate. Many online courses offer a forum for students and instructors to discuss course materials, comment on one another’s work, and ask questions as needed.
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Funding the Virtual Voyage
Even though some online classes and degree programs can be more affordable than their in-person counterparts, tuition costs may still come with sticker shock. Depending on the school and online program you’re looking to enroll in, however, you may have the following options to help fund your college education.
Paying à la Carte
Online courses are often designed to fit a working student’s schedule (though being employed certainly isn’t a requirement). In some cases, you may be able to pay for classes as you go. In others, the school may also offer a payment plan, allowing you to make monthly payments over time to cover the cost of your online degree.
By filling out the Federal Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), you will find out if you are eligible for federal student aid, including grants (which you don’t have to pay back) and loans (which you do).
With federal subsidized student loans, you won’t start accruing interest until six months after you graduate. With unsubsidized federal loans, interest begins to accrue as soon as the funds are dispersed (though you can defer making any payments until six months after you graduate). Federal student loans don’t require a credit check and come with a relatively low, fixed interest rate set by the government.
If there are still gaps in funding, you may also want to explore private student loans. These are available through private lenders, including banks, credit unions, and online lenders, and do require a credit check. If you don’t have much credit history or income, you will likely need a cosigner. Rates may be fixed or variable, and are set by the lender. Borrowers with excellent credit tend to qualify for the lowest rates.
A private loan can cover up to 100% of the cost of school-certified attendance, both for in-person and online courses. Keep in mind, though, that federal student loans offer benefits, like income-based repayment plans and Public Service Loan Forgiveness, that are not guaranteed by private lenders.
If you’ve exhausted all federal student aid options, no-fee private student loans from SoFi can help you pay for school. The online application process is easy, and you can see rates and terms in just minutes. Repayment plans are flexible, so you can find an option that works for your financial plan and budget.
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.