How to Decide What Classes to Take Online and When

By Alicia Geigel on February 27, 2019

When registration time approaches, picking courses may be either a breeze or a nightmare. Piecing together a schedule of courses all while taking into consideration day of the week, time, location, etc. makes choosing courses even more of a hassle. However, one convenient option when choosing courses is taking courses online, which not only eliminates the stress of putting together a schedule that doesn’t overlap, but it also gives you better control over how you spend your time.

An increasing number of students are preferring online learning over the traditional classroom method, according to Jordan Friedman of U.S. News. Friedman writes, “At 7.3 percent, public colleges and universities experienced the largest growth in online course enrollment from 2015 and 2016.”  Making the decision to enroll in courses online can be intimidating and overwhelming for some students entering into uncharted territory. There are a few things to consider, like what specific classes to take online and when exactly to take them.

While online classes are great in some ways, each student has to make sure that the learning method and responsibility of an online class is suitable for them. Are you a student considering taking classes online? Unsure of what to expect? Not sure what classes to take or when to take them? Check out my comprehensive guide on how to decide what classes to take online and when, which will not only give you an idea of what to expect, but will also make the decision process easier for you!

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Deciding What to Take Online

Talk to An Advisor: Diving into the uncharted territories of course catalogs on your own can be scary and confusing if you don’t know what to look for or even where to look for it. If you’re having trouble deciding whether or not to take online courses, which courses to take online, when to take online courses, etc., talk to an academic advisor! Some people stray from talking to academic advisors, but doing so can only be to your benefit.

Academic advisors are on campus for a reason — to help you succeed and assist you with anything you may need! When it comes to selecting courses and registering for classes, reaching out to an academic advisor is a great way to go. Micha Sabovik, the Assistant Dean at Boston University’s College of Communication, comments on the effectiveness of academic advisors, stating, “A quick 15-minute appointment with an advisor can set you on the right track for the semester and beyond.” Get in touch via email or phone call and set up an appointment with an advisor as soon as you can!

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Review Your Requirements (Gen Ed or Core): One of the most important elements of registering for courses is reviewing your requirements and taking the appropriate courses that correspond with those requirements. Doing so ensures that you’re taking the right classes and are on track to graduating on time. For all college students, there are specific classes to take called “Gen Eds” or general education courses that typically include an English or literature course, a math class, a history course, etc.

Other courses are centered around your major and correspond with major requirements. When deciding what classes to take online, consider seeing if you can opt for taking a more laid-back course like a Gen Ed to lessen the load of your daily classes, or see what the options are for fulfilling core major requirements online. Regardless, it’s important to know what you’re working with so you have a solid idea of what to look for when registration comes.

Consider Your Major: As stated earlier, it’s obvious (and important) to consider your major when picking courses, both in the classroom and online. When I say, “consider your major” I don’t mean in the traditional, simplistic way like “I have to take x class to fulfill y credits for my major.” Instead, I’m more leaning toward the idea of incorporating key elements of your major into your search of other classes.

For instance, I was a Political Science major in college, a major that was writing intensive. So, when looking at classes, I picked courses that had stronger foundations in English and writing, to correspond with my political science courses and also improve those same skills that I would be using so much in my major. Look into courses like these when considering classes online!

If you’re undecided: Not everyone in college comes into it knowing exactly what they want to do or what they want to major in. Before I was a political science major, I was a Film and Screen Studies major, so even I had a period of time where I didn’t know what I wanted! Despite this, the great part about college is that you’re exposed to so many new ideas and things you didn’t know about.

I ended up learning about how politics influenced film in Latin America while being a Film Studies major, which ended up influencing my decision to switch majors! If you are undecided, explore courses that are of interest to you and test the waters while you have the time and opportunity! It’s ok to not know what you want to do, just give yourself a chance to try new things and discover what your passions are!

Evaluate your Schedule: When thinking about taking classes online and when to do so, evaluating your schedule is important. Are you balancing school, a job, and extracurriculars? Do your current home/work circumstances require you to be away from campus more frequently? These are important questions to ask yourself, as they will help you decide whether or not to take online classes and when to take them.

If you are away from campus and need more freedom when it comes to classes, online courses may be the best option for you. The convenience of taking online classes is that you don’t have to make the trip to campus, you can learn right from the comfort of your own home.

Take risks/Have Fun: College is not solely about working hard and getting the greatest grades, it’s also about expanding your knowledge, ideas, and perceptions of things you otherwise wouldn’t have known about. With that being said, when reviewing what classes you want to take, take some risks and have fun! If you can take a film course or art course that fulfills one of your requirements, go for it!

My junior year, I took a course that was about the science in science fiction films! It was so much fun- we got to watch a lot of cool movies, all while learning some interesting things about science, and it was online! While in college, you’ll have so many opportunities to learn and engage in fun ways, so don’t hesitate to explore fun courses when looking for online classes. You won’t regret it!

Read Student Reviews: Before signing up for a class, it’s smart to read different student reviews of the course and the professor so you can get an understanding of the material and teaching, and determine whether it matches your learning style.

Jan Holloway and Chris Foley of U.S. News write, “Student reviews can answer questions about interaction with classmates, time management and required technology. The range of experiences they convey will broaden your awareness of the challenges and benefits of online learning, answer questions and debunk common myths.” So, dive into some student reviews or even ask your peers about the classes you’re interested in before signing up- it will help out in the long run!

Things to Keep in Mind  

Distractions: Because the online instructional method is different than being in a classroom, your obligations and priorities are different. You are more vulnerable to distractions because of the mere fact that your class is online and requires you to be on a browser. Unfortunately, there are many distractions that can be super tempting when you’re working on schoolwork for your online course, such as: engaging in social media, texting, listening to music, and watching TV.

To help minimize distractions, set yourself a timer for 10-15 minutes, indulge in your Twitter feed or texting your s/o, then get back to work. Once you set a time limit for yourself, you’ll not only feel better after your break but you’ll also be able to jump right back into work.

Attendance: Part of the reason why online classes are so great is due to the fact that attendance is not as strict and rigid as regular classroom attendance. In contrast to the traditional classroom method, most online courses do not typically hold attendance. Instead, credit is given in the form of either weekly quizzes, discussions, or assignments.

Some online courses, depending on which kind you choose, can hold sessions weekly at a specific time, which in that case, attendance would be mandatory in order for you to engage effectively in the course. Regardless of the online course you select, you are in control, which means you can decide whether you want a more open course or rigid one with exact times!

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Evaluate the routine of your teacher/course: Not all teachers run their courses the same way, and when it comes to online courses, you will find that some teachers hold virtual meetings while others encourage discussion board participation. Evaluating these differences is important when it comes to your learning style because you can distinguish which kind of approach works best for you and which ones don’t come as easy.

Because of the nature of online courses, teachers and professors have to be mainly available through email or some other form of contact, which allows for you to get in touch with them at any time to voice any questions or concerns you have about your learning pace or your progress in the course. Being in contact with your professor in an online course is especially important since they aren’t physically there all the time to notice if you are struggling and/or what you are struggling with.

Hours Spent Online: Just like a regular classroom course, an online course requires hours of invested time. For example, almost all online courses have some form of classroom engagement, whether that is through a voice-thread post or discussion board entry. Discussions allow you to share your knowledge of the topics and lessons of the week as well as bring forward any questions you wish to ask fellow students.

In most cases, instructors will ask a prompt and require you to answer the prompt based on the knowledge of the lessons given that week. Following your response, instructors typically request that you respond to another student’s answer to the prompt with either an agreement, disagreement, or another question.  In addition to discussion posts, Stephanie Larson of US News states that your teacher may require you to watch/listen to lectures, participate in group projects and complete other assignments such as a quiz, homework exercise, or exam.

Transfer Credits: One very important thing that many students forget to take into consideration when looking into online classes is whether or not the credits will transfer to their institution. Now, this is only the case if you were taking a course(s) at a different school than your main, however, it is still knowledge that all students should know. Perhaps you’re taking a course over the summer to lessen the number of credits you take in the fall, or maybe you need an easy course to take to fulfill certain criteria in your major- regardless, connect with an academic advisor before enrolling to make sure that the credits transfer correctly and how you expect them to. You don’t want to waste time or money on a course that doesn’t count toward anything!

Deciding what classes to take online and when to take them can be difficult without the proper help. When considering to take courses online, reach out to an advisor and review your requirements and student reviews to help you decide, but don’t forget to have fun too! Always remember that taking courses online does not make you any less of a student or whatever criticism you may have heard before. Everyone has different wants and needs, and online courses can be a great option to balance your classes and college life!

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