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5 Tips to Help You Register for Online Courses

Prospective students may consider starting with just one online course, if possible, to adjust to online education. (Petar Chernaev/Getty Images)

After you decide to pursue an online degree, one of your first tasks will be to register for classes.

Diligently selecting which online courses to take, with which faculty and in what order will impact your satisfaction with the program and academic success. Many universities provide online students with an academic adviser early on to aid in course selection and registration.

While online advisers are excellent resources, here are five tips to help you during the course-selection process.

1. Determine what type of instruction best fits your needs: Typically, online classes can be synchronous, requiring attendance in real time; asynchronous, or self-paced; or a combination of the two. The format is usually stated on the course listing on the registrar’s webpage, or your academic adviser should know.

[Learn how to decide between live and self-paced online courses.]

Understanding the differences between these types of instruction and knowing which best align with your schedule will help you choose courses. Be sure to also factor in your learning preferences and personality; for instance, a more extroverted student may prefer online classes with live group discussions.

2. Consider a lighter load initially: To avoid becoming overwhelmed or possibly dropping out, consider whether you need to progress through an online program quickly; there may be no reason to rush.

Many online colleges now have multiple start dates throughout the year beyond the typical fall, spring and summer semesters. If you are balancing a number of priorities, consider starting with just one class and evaluating your progress before adding more. If you have an ideal graduation date, ask your adviser to help you design a customized course completion road map.

3. Determine the right course section: If you are registering for a popular course, it’s likely the school simultaneously offers many different sections taught by different faculty. While the curriculum and learning outcomes may be identical from section to section, the syllabus usually is not.

[Explore questions to ask about online course scheduling options.]

If you can view all of the available course sections on your registrar’s homepage, you can usually search the bios of faculty to see if they previously taught online or if their research interests align with yours. You can also search the internet to review other online students’ experiences. This will ensure you choose a course section with a professor held in high regard.

4. Start coursework early: After registering for online courses, it’s possible to start learning online before the course actually begins.

If the course has a required or suggested textbook, you can buy it ahead of time, for example. If you are completely unfamiliar with the content or are rusty on the prerequisite material, take advantage of the many free, high-quality open educational resources or other free online classes on sites such as Khan Academy, edX and Coursera, which university professors may teach.

5. Understand the difference between dropping and withdrawing from a course: Many colleges offer a period for a few days after classes start when students can remove or add online classes with little or no penalty. For this reason, assess your fit with a course early. The night before the first assignment is due may already be too late to drop the course.

Once the drop/add period ends, universities usually have a second date for course withdrawal, but this step generally has academic and financial aid ramifications, and students should avoid this, if possible. Search your institution’s website for the academic calendar and these dates.

The takeaway: Many decisions accompany registering for online courses. Asking your adviser thoughtful questions; diligently exploring all course options, sections and start dates; and making strategic course selections will enhance your academic success.


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