What Are the Advantages of Taking Online Courses for College Credit?

Distance education is perhaps one of the most defining technological advancements of our time, and it’s currently having its moment in the sun. Though e-learning has been in the works for decades, the Covid-19 pandemic shone a light on distance learning technology and proved what it’s truly capable of. Now more than ever before, students and teachers alike are aware of just what can be accomplished through remote learning and teaching.

If you’re a current or prospective college student, now is the time to get in on the many benefits of online classes, whether as part of an overall degree plan or as standalone virtual courses. In this article, you’ll learn about online education advantages in general as well as those advantages of online learning that pertain to students seeking college credit. What are you waiting for?

Benefits of Online Classes (In General)

Before we delve into the numerous benefits of online learning for students seeking college credit, let’s first address the more general advantages of online learning. After all, distance education is for everyone. Whether you’re actively seeking a degree or not, there’s a lot of rewards to be had by taking online classes.

Flexibility of Online Learning

Flexibility tops our list of online education advantages because it’s the most widely recognized benefit of this learning format. It’s so widely known, in fact, that we risk stating the obvious to even include it here. Still, there’s no denying that one of the key advantages of online learning is the flexibility factor. Without a commute or in-person attendance requirements, students can free up precious time to work part-time (or even full-time), raise children, or take care of any other responsibilities they may have. This makes online learning extremely convenient for busy adults.

Even more traditional students like recent high school graduates can benefit from the flexibility of online courses, though. The extra time afforded to these students through remote learning can be spent studying challenging subjects, participating in student organizations, volunteering, or spending quality time with family. The truth is there’s no type of student who doesn’t benefit from a few more hours in their day.

When considering the flexibility of online courses, it’s important to recognize that this flexibility can vary depending on the type of online classes you’re taking. That’s become some types of distance education are more flexible than others. For instance, synchronous and hybrid courses may be the least flexible types of distance learning. Synchronous classes require students to attend a virtual class in much the same way as they would attend in person. That means they must “arrive” at a certain time and log off at a certain time. These types of classes are also more likely to be associated with firm deadlines. Hybrid courses are even less flexible because they require some face-to-face meetings (usually on campus) in addition to online coursework. If your schedule or preferences require the maximum level of flexibility, you’ll want to look for an asynchronous online class or program. These types of distance education offerings allow students to work at their own pace by offering them 24/7 access to course materials and assignments. In these types of distance learning courses, lectures are often pre-recorded instead of being live-streamed as they would in a synchronous online class.

Affordability

The opportunity to save a little cash is always worth mentioning, and another of the most compelling advantages of online classes is their affordability. Although distance education courses can range in price, they’re almost always more cost-effective than their traditional, in-person counterparts. There are even some free online classes you can take, though these are usually available for audit only. If you’re looking to take online college classes, you’ll be happy to learn that universities usually charge distance learners the lower in-state tuition rate, no matter where they reside. This policy could result in thousands of dollars saved per semester simply by opting to learn online as opposed to on campus.

No matter what you end up paying in tuition, however, there are also additional savings to be had by attending classes remotely. Transportation and housing costs are unnecessary when you can take classes from home and skip the commute.

Engagement

One of the surprising advantages of online learning that almost no one predicted is the heightened levels of engagement it provides, especially for certain types of learners. Decades ago when distance learning was just catching on, this is the opposite result that many critics feared. It was once thought that engagement would taper off in an online learning environment, but that’s not at all what has happened. On the contrary, distance learning technology has provided interactive learning environments where students often feel liberated by the lack of physical classroom walls. These students, particularly those who are hesitant to speak up in traditional class settings, thrive in virtual class environments where the pressure is less suffocating and their surroundings more familiar.

Beyond the classroom discussion, virtual learning environments also provide convenient communication tools that add to the engagement factor as well. E-mail, online chat, and classroom forums provide instant and easy access to professors and classmates whenever and wherever communication surrounding course topics is desired. When compared to scheduling meetings with professors around his or her office hours or making time for study groups, it’s easy to see how a high level of engagement is more easily maintained with online classes versus traditional ones.

Advantages of Online Classes for College Credit

While the inherent online education advantages can be extended to anyone, there are particular benefits of online learning for students who wish to earn college credits or even an entire degree. These benefits are readily available to all types of students, not only those who are exclusively distance learners. It’s possible to transition from online learning to traditional classes and back again if you so desire. Remember, the principal benefit of online classes is their flexibility, and this applies to online courses for college credit as well! Want to learn more? Read on.

Earn Your Degree at Your Own Pace

It’s common knowledge that one of the primary benefits of online classes is their incredible flexibility. When combined with the ability to earn real college credit through online learning, the advantages are only multiplied. Many students are hard-wired to think that earning a bachelor’s degree takes a minimum of four years, but with an online bachelor’s degree plan, this doesn’t have to be the case. In many self-paced online degree programs, students who work ahead of schedule can finish degree requirements in significantly less time. The same holds true for other types of online college credentials such as associate’s, master’s, and even doctoral programs.

Of course, not all students endeavor to complete their degree requirements at an accelerated pace. In fact, others may need more time to earn their credentials. Many online programs accommodate these circumstances as well by allowing students to work at a more relaxed pace. For example, students who need to hold down a full-time job may opt to study part-time towards their degree. The combination of a lighter course load plus the ability to complete assignments from home enables many non-traditional students to further their education when they may not have had the opportunity to do so otherwise. This is the incredible power and reach of distance learning!

Save Money on Tuition

For financially savvy students, tuition savings is among the leading benefits of online classes. As we’ve pointed out, many online colleges extend the same tuition discounts to their distance learners that they give to their in-state students. The cost benefits don’t end with these degree-granting institutions, though. Online learning platforms like Coursera and edX, for example, offer opportunities for distance learners to take college courses for credit without the exorbitant costs of tuition. While some free college courses for credit do exist, there’s usually a fee associated with these types of online offerings, but the expense is nowhere near what you’d pay at a university.

We’d be remiss not to offer you a word of caution about earning college credits on third-party online learning platforms, though. While these are great resources and are entirely legitimate, you’ll need to do a bit of planning ahead of time in order to take advantage of these cheaper alternatives to earning college credit. Specifically, you need to have a plan in place for how the credits you earn will transfer to an accredited college or university when it comes time to get your degree. That’s because each school has its own policies for which credits they will and will not accept. If you don’t plan ahead, you may actually end up losing money (not to mention time) by taking classes that won’t transfer to your school or academic program of choice.

Get a Feel for College Before You Commit

For high school students or recent graduates, there are additional advantages of online classes to be had. For example, those students who are still on the fence about attending college can dip their toes in the waters of higher education without making a full commitment to a university. Individual online college courses can help these apprehensive students get a feel for what it would be like to be a full-time college student without all of the risks that come along with official enrollment. There are even some online courses available that are specifically designed to introduce students to the college experience. For example, Coursera hosts a course from the University of Washington entitled University 101: Understanding College and College Life. Similarly, edX boasts a whole suite of online courses designed to prepare students for college academics. Many of these distance learning options may result in college credit that can eventually be transferred to a degree program should the student decide that college is, in fact, the right choice.

Get a Head Start on College

One of the advantages of online learning for students who are college bound is the ability to earn college credits prior to enrollment. In some cases, students can begin earning credit online even before they graduate from high school. For example, edX offers a number of free online Advanced Placement (AP) courses in subjects like psychology, English composition, physics, and precalculus. These online classes prepare high school students to take AP tests administered by The College Board. Passing scores on these tests qualify students to earn real college credit from thousands of colleges and universities across the United States. Online AP classes provide extraordinary benefits for those students who attend schools that lack the resources to provide certain subject-area AP courses on campus.

Choosing the Right Online Courses and Schools for College Credit

It’s been established that there are a lot of different distance learning opportunities available right now. So the question becomes, “How does one go about choosing the right one?”

Look for Accreditation

To reap the benefits of online classes for college credit, you’ll need to keep accreditation top of mind. This is especially true if your plan is to eventually transfer these credits to a degree plan. On the other hand, if you’re auditing an online course or just taking online classes for fun, accreditation is not such a big issue. To check for accreditation, be sure that the institution you’re taking classes from is accredited by an accrediting agency that’s approved by the U.S. Department of Education. You can also quickly confirm a school’s current accreditation status by using the College Navigator tool provided by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Choose a High-Interest Subject to Start

While there are myriad benefits of online classes, there are just as many challenges. Contrary to popular belief, taking courses online isn’t necessarily taking the easy path. These classes are often just as rigorous academically as any in-person course, and you won’t have the same type of structure that a physical classroom provides. Many students find the flexibility of online learning to be an obstacle rather than an advantage, at least at first. That is, without the restraints of specific class meeting times, you may come up short on self-discipline. To avoid this potential pitfall, it’s wise to pick an online class that you’re highly interested in, at least to start with.

Keep the End Goal in Mind

If a college degree is indeed on your radar as one of the target advantages of online learning, then you’ll want to keep this in focus as you begin your distance education journey. With thousands of online classes available for free or cheap, it’s easy to get distracted out there! As you’re selecting courses, try to choose titles that will eventually transfer to a degree plan. If you know the school you want to one day attend and/or the major you want to pursue, that’s even better. With this information, you can carefully plan a course of action that will help you achieve your goals. At the very least, you can get some of your general education requirements out of the way by taking online classes prior to your official college enrollment. It’s not a bad idea to speak to an admissions counselor at your target school as well to get as much information as you can about the institution’s credit transfer policies. With a little research, you’ll be on your way to taking full advantage of the many benefits of online learning for students just like you, as opposed to spinning your wheels.

The advantages of online learning are vast and ever-increasing. If you look at how distance education has evolved in just a few short decades, one can only imagine how it will transform learning in the future. To reap all of the benefits of online learning for students of all ages and aptitudes, you’ll want to stay current with advancements and opportunities in the field as much as possible. For now, ask yourself how the many online education advantages apply to your current academic, career, and life goals.

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Bambi Majumdar
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Julie McCaulley
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