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How Does Online College Work?


Higher education doesn’t always fit perfectly into everyone’s life situation. For some, the rising costs of traditional college poses a challenge, and for others, it may be a need to continue working during school. Regardless of the reason, the rise in online college is offering a solution for millions of people around the world who want to earn their degree. So, how does online college work?

If you want to know all the ins and outs of what you can expect from online college, keep on reading!

What is Online College?

Online college is an educational institution that is virtual. While there are some traditional college campuses that also provide online courses, a fully online college like the University of the People means there is no campus. Instead, students log into school online and fulfill the required coursework all completely from their computer.

How Many Weeks is Online College?

This really depends on the online college! Some of them work by the semester system, meaning the schedule runs for 15 weeks.

On the other hand, some online colleges offer accelerated programs or tracks that could be only 5-8 weeks in length.

Things to Consider When Choosing Your Online College

When choosing an online program that is right for you, the particular rankings and college environment that matters with traditional colleges falls by the wayside.

Instead, one of the main aspects is accreditation. Accreditation is how universities are evaluated. A third-party peer review board ensures that what the college promises to deliver is, indeed, delivered.

For example, University of the People received accreditation from the Distance Education Accreditation Council (DEAC), making it the first ever tuition-free, non-profit, online US-accredited university.

Students writing notes next to laptop for online college
Photo by Helloquence on Unsplash

What are Classes Like in an Online College?

Here’s how most virtual classrooms function:

1. Logging On:

Once you become a student, you have to log in to the school’s website. This is your portal to receive all materials and attend classes. This means that you have to have reliable access to the internet and a device that can be used to log on.

2. Listening and Reading Lecture Material:

When class is in session, you can assess your reading and lecture materials online. Some courses may have professors who record themselves, others may just be audio, and in some instances, it could just come down to chatting and sharing information.

3. Assignments:

Many classes will have assignments with due dates. These may either be done online, or at least, submitted online. For example, if you need to write a research paper, you may be able to upload your work from a word processor like Microsoft Word, Google Docs or Apple Pages.

4. Blog:

Some colleges may offer a blog as a resource for students and prospective students alike. For example, you’re reading all about online college on UoPeople’s blog, which happens to be filled with informative posts and useful information.

5. Groups:

Some online colleges may assign tasks to be completed in groups. Since students from around the world can access online college, this provides you an opportunity to meet and learn from people who may have very diverse perspectives and ways of living than you.

6. Discussion Boards:

There are online colleges that have discussion boards, or a forum where students post questions and answers. Sometimes, these are mandatory for participation, and at other times, they serve as a community gathering place for information, support, and advice.

7. Grades:

Like traditional college, grades are given that are either A-F or pass/fail.

8. Exams:

Students still have to take exams online. These may be virtually proctored.

Program Length and Enrollment

Program length also varies when it comes to earning an online degree. However, on average, students who are earning their bachelor’s degree finish in 2.5 years (as compared to the 4-5 it takes those who attend on-campus schools). Master’s degrees may take 2 years, or in accelerated programs, can be completed more quickly.

Is Class at a Specific Time?

Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

For the most part, online college is structured such that it can be self-paced. This means that students can log on and complete their work at any given time, as long as it meets predetermined deadlines.

Yet, there are other instances where attending an online video conference may be obligatory.

At UoPeople, however, students have the freedom to choose when and where they attend their classes.

Does Online College Have In-Person Components?

Depending on the school you attend, some online colleges require some time in-person for residency. However, the University of the People doesn’t operate in that way, as it is 100% online.

What Do I Need to Know Before Enrolling in Online College?

Just like traditional on-campus universities, each school has their own list of classes and degrees offered.
Plus, every school has their own fees, admissions requirements, and program lengths.

It’s important to check out your desired online college’s website or contact an admissions advisor for more information before enrolling. This way, you can be sure that the college you choose works for you.

Can I Hasten an Online Degree Completion?

Yes, there are a few different ways to accelerate online learning.

Firstly, you can enroll full-time, which means you’ll take more classes per semester and therefore graduate sooner. Also, some schools may offer credit for military service. Additionally, there are schools that offer accelerated programs that are strategically designed to for students to finish in a shortened amount of time.

How Do Students and Teachers Communicate in Online College?

Technology has helped to make online college a possibility. Online colleges provide multiple ways for students and professors to be in contact with one another. Some of the methods include:

  • Forums
  • Message boards
  • Instant chat
  • Email

Things You Should Know About Online College

1. It’s Not Easy:

If you’re motivated to take online classes because you think it’s the easier path, then you’re wrong. Online college requires as much effort, and possibly even more time management skills than traditional college. You have to be motivated to get the work done and log on yourself.

2. You Might be Better:

Some students perform better online because of the format. Online school affords you the ability to go at your own pace, not get lost in the crowd, and even rewatch and pause lectures however you see fit.

3. Technology is Needed:

This is crucial. You need to have a reliable internet connection to be able to access online college.

4. Time Management is Key:

Since you probably have a lot going on outside of school, you really need to master time management. Even if school is your sole focus, you have to wake up and be motivated to log on and attend your classes. When they are online, all the responsibility falls on you to take initiative.

5. Group Assignments Exist:

Even though everything is online, group projects may still be a part of your coursework and grade. College is a great place to hone your ability to work in teams.

6. Make Connections:

Since most of your work takes place behind a screen, you will have to put in some extra effort to make connections and establish friendships. But it’s not impossible as long as you try! You can connect with friends in the discussion groups, move to social media or phone calls, and even set up a time to meet in person if it works for you.

7. Get Excited!:

Online school gives you a lot to be excited about. In comparison with students who attend on-campus classes, some may feel frustrated and stressed from time wasted during their commute. Classes may feel overwhelming or crowded. But online school removes some of these obstacles so that you are the focal point of your own educational journey.

How Much Does Online College Cost?

Online colleges are relatively cheaper than traditional on-campus colleges because there are less overhead costs. And, if you want to attend online college tuition-free, then UoPeople has you covered! All you will be responsible to pay is the one-time application fee and course assessment fees.

Plus, financial aid still exists when it comes to online education. You can apply for scholarships and grants.

Person highlighting notes and drawing a prototype
Photo by William Iven on Unsplash

The Bottom Line

If you have ever wondered, “Are online degrees worthless?” Now you can rest assured knowing that they provide equal quality education to their traditional on-campus counterparts.

If you’re interested in learning more about online colleges and programs, our staff at the University of the People are ready to help answer any of your questions!