A new semester is usually a fresh opportunity to collaborate and hobnob, but 2020 and beyond will be remembered as the time when learning largely went online.
As the coronavirus pandemic caused an increasing number of colleges to abandon or delay plans to open campuses, a scramble to adapt ensued.
But adapt everyone must. Welcome to the epic socially distant epoch of higher education. Can a collegian still thrive? Yes. A student can learn how to be successful in online classes.
Types of Online Classes
When trying to come up with a plan for not just taking but succeeding with online classes, the first step is to determine whether classes will be fully remote or a hybrid.
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.
Benefits and Potential Pitfalls of Virtual Courses
While virtual learning is ideal for some students, it may be frustrating for others. Some degrees may not lend themselves to a virtual experience either. But for students who have taken the plunge into online learning, there are several benefits to talk about.
Pros of Online Courses
Flexibility. The ability to learn whenever and wherever is a priceless 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 preoccupied 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 also could have condensed schedules available, allowing a student to get through the courses faster.
There are other savings to consider. With online instruction, students don’t have to worry about paying for parking, gas, or lunch on the go (and there are ways to thrive as a commuter student).
If virtual learners can pursue an education while working full or part time, an option not always available to students bogged down by a schedule of in-person classes, they may be able to curb student loan debt.
Potential Cons of Online Courses
Minimal social benefits. One concern students might have when taking online classes is the lack of personal interaction. While some simply respond better to in-person learning, others worry that questions won’t be addressed as promptly or thoroughly in an online setting. Other students are motivated by interactions with fellow students and find themselves struggling 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 is appealing to most, it can create scheduling conflicts. If students are challenged by time management, they may find themselves procrastinating and struggling to manage their workload and deadlines.
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 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.
Funding the Virtual Voyage
Even though some online classes are more affordable than their in-person variations, tuition costs may cause a bit of sticker shock. Consider the following options when determining how to pay for virtual classes, keeping in mind that certain institutions may have rules limiting payment methods.
By filling out the FAFSA®, approved students can obtain federal funding for their education. Known for low and fixed rates, federal student loans don’t typically require payments to begin until graduation.
With a good credit rating and a little patience, students can find private student loans through private lenders, if needed. Though they often come with repayment plans that start right away, they are an option for students denied federal aid or whose costs are not completely covered by federal aid.
Federal student loans offer benefits that don’t typically accompany private loans. It’s generally thought that students and parents should exhaust federal student loan options before considering private loans.
Paying à la Carte
Online courses are designed to fit a working student’s schedule (though being employed certainly isn’t a requirement). Many students who enjoy online classes take them as they’re financially able, paying for them with their own money at the time payment is due, either upfront or through a college’s payment plan.
During this time of great adjustment, don’t let finances become another worry. Consider a private student loan from SoFi to jumpstart the virtual college experience.
Many students have found SoFi Private Student Loans to be affordable and convenient, thanks to flexible repayment options and no fees—no origination fees, late fees, or insufficient-funds fees.
A private loan can cover up to 100% of the cost of school-certified attendance, both for in-person and online courses. A SoFi Private Student Loan can help cover additional costs after federal aid or become a lifeline for those denied government assistance.
SoFi Private Student Loans
Please borrow responsibly. SoFi Private Student Loans are not a substitute for federal loans, grants, and work-study programs. You should exhaust all your federal student aid options before you consider any private loans, including ours. Read our FAQs. SoFi Private Student Loans are subject to program terms and restrictions, and applicants must meet SoFi’s eligibility and underwriting requirements. See SoFi.com/eligibility for more information. To view payment examples, click here. SoFi reserves the right to modify eligibility criteria at any time. This information is subject to change. SoFi Bank, N.A. and its lending products are not endorsed by or directly affiliated with any college or university unless otherwise disclosed.
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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.