How to Know if Online Classes Are Right For You

Online Classes blog

For so many college students, the new semester is beginning. That means getting back into a routine of getting up, getting ready and heading to classes. Or for me, that means rolling out of bed and sitting on my computer. That’s because all of my classes are completely online. I am currently studying through SUNY Empire State College’s Center for Distance Learning. There is a pretty heavy stigma that can surround online schooling, including the ideas that it is easier or that it isn’t as valid as sitting in a physical classroom. Well, I am here to debunk those myths and help you see if online classes are right for you! Let’s start out with a little story about why I chose online schooling. I am currently 22 and still in college. I know, I probably seem like a slacker but transferring and changing majors can really set you back a bit. When I decided I wanted to teach high school history, I knew I couldn’t sit in a classroom any longer. I had taken a year of online classes when I was transitioning schools (in order to avoid paying back my student loans and to try to figure out what I wanted to pursue) and I did fairly well so when I decided that I was going to pursue a major that was highly independent (as history is), I knew this would be the right fit.

I was never good at “traditional” college. If you took one look at my notebooks, you could tell. I spent more time in class doodling or writing up lists than I did paying attention, mostly because I understood what was said the first time or I had already read the information in the textbook/notes/slides. Also, being a more tactile and visual learner, as opposed to an auditory learner, made traditional lecture classes very frustrating because I had to put extra time in to learn the material that I wasn’t retaining in class.

So what are the perks of online classes?

1. Working at your own pace (to an extent)

Being in online classes doesn’t usually mean you can wait until the last week to finish all of your work. For me, there are still weekly, biweekly or triweekly deadlines depending on the class. However, you are not forced to be put on the spot to answer a question that you may not have gotten to read about yet. For me, I am able to get a significant amount of work prepped ahead of time because I have an entire semester laid out in a syllabus that doesn’t change much (unlike in a traditional classroom where you have to make adjustments to meet the needs of all of the students, an online classroom has a stricter set of deadlines. If you can’t meet them for whatever reason, you take that up with the teacher but it doesn’t hinder the class).

2. Setting your own hours

One of the biggest struggles I had in traditional college was finding classes that fit my schedule. Classes that I needed were in time slots that I couldn’t take classes during or classes overlapped and that made it exceptionally hard to schedule the classes I needed to graduate. With online schooling, you get to take the amount of classes you need and you do the work when you can. For me, that means getting up and doing work in the morning and using my two days off (Monday and Friday) to spend all day doing schoolwork. This never worked in my traditional school because classes were usually paired, so I couldn’t just take a class on a Monday or a Friday. Online classes are exceptionally good for people who have jobs with non steady hours or parents who are trying to go to school while raising children.

3. Multitasking

This is probably one of my favorite parts of going to school online. When I was in traditional school, it took me around a half hour to commute plus 2-4 hours of classes. That is a lot of time that can be spent doing other things. While at home, I am able to do schoolwork while doing laundry (which is what I am doing right now so don’t worry mom, the laundry is getting done), cleaning, writing blog posts/ideas, etc. Instead of being stuck on a campus for 4-5 hours, I have the option of breaking up my work into 45 minute sessions and taking short breaks to get other things done. Not only do I do better school work like this, but I am able to get other things done that otherwise would be left until I got home.

4. Messy hair, don’t care

Okay, so this may be the slightly vain part that I love. I will admit that it is fabulous being able to roll out of bed and sit at my computer without having to get ready for school. I know a lot of people don’t care what they look like going to classes, but I always did so getting up early to get dressed and at least make myself look semi-presentable was always a challenge.

The Cons:

Online schooling is not all fun and games and it is not for everyone. There are some “downsides” or challenges to going to school online.

1. More Work / More Motivation Needed

In my opinion, I have found online classes to have more work than my traditional classes. This has to do with the fact that it is mandatory (at least in my school) to participate in discussion forums each week. Also, because you are not in a classroom listening to a teacher speak, you have to do the readings. You can’t get away with just skimming through a textbook and then matching it up with what a teacher says. It is a very independent process. Also, there is no option of “skipping class” like I know I have and I’m sure many other college students have done. If you miss a week of discussion in a traditional college class, it may not count against you depending on your teacher’s absence policy. However, online, it will hurt your grade.

2. Less Socialization

For me, this was not a big problem considering I have multiple social groups through pageantry and volunteering outside of school. In fact, at my last school I wasn’t involved in any clubs because ‘club hours’ fell when I was working. However, if you are a new college student who doesn’t really participate in anything outside of school, online schooling may not be for you. Traditional classrooms allow for socialization which, especially for a new college student/young adult, is important. You have to learn how to socialize with people outside of your typical circle of high school friends.

3. Stigma

I mentioned this at the beginning of the post. I actually would have continued my online schooling instead of transferring schools if I didn’t fear what people thought of the fact that I was in a non-traditional school. Instead, I forced myself to go to a local school and honestly I wasn’t happy. I had some classes that I loved (and I am grateful that I went only because one class I took inspired me to take the career path that I have chosen) but for the most part, I struggled to be happy with the fact that I was “in pointless classes” or that I had to wake up at 6 am and drive to classes in all forms of weather and sit through two hours of lectures that I didn’t care about.

4. Not all Majors Fit

There are some majors that you just need to go to traditional school for. This is really your “hands-on majors” such as elementary education, most sciences and certain media based majors. For elementary education majors, you lack the hands on training that you get from going to a traditional school that allows you to stand up and present lesson plans. For the sciences and media majors, you may not have the technology at home that is available at a traditional college.

5. No Snow Days / Cancellations

The last on both the pros and the cons are silly little vain comments. The one ‘superficial’ con of online schooling is that there are no snow days. I went to online school during Hurricane Sandy. While my traditional peers had no school, I was just starting classes (side note: for that, the school was very helpful to students who were directly affected by the storm). If it snows, there are no days off in online school because there is no commuting to be done. Although this isn’t a big deal, I thought it would be interesting to mention because I didn’t think about it until after I started online classes. Also, you don’t get classes cancelled or assignments moved because of a teacher being sick/absent.

Choosing a school is hard, whether you are considering traditional or online classes (or a combination of both). Hopefully this post helped shed some light on online schooling and will help someone make that decision if it is something they are looking into.

Have you ever taken online class or have gone to online school? Let me know about your experiences in the comments!

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