A Complete Online Education Checklist


Updated September 15, 2023

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Campus colleges have their own lists of requirements, but there's even more to consider when applying to an online college.

Online education is a flexible, convenient option for students, so long as they are equipped to thrive in an online learning environment. A little advanced research can go a long way when it comes to qualifying for online programs.

Many online education prerequisites mirror those required for on-campus programs. Marking all the boxes on an online education checklist ensures that students enter online programs prepared and poised for success.

Academic Performance Requirements

Academic requirements for online programs are usually comparable to those for traditional, on-campus degrees and certificates. Students should always check with their potential college or university to make sure they provide all required information. Common required materials include transcripts, letters of recommendation, and resumes.

  • Colleges and universities often require applicants to have earned a minimum GPA from high school or prior college classes. Students should also submit any AP courses or comparable work experience that can count toward college credit.
  • A high school diploma, GED certificate, or equivalent is required for entry into two- and four-year institutions.
  • Students can submit letters of recommendation from previous instructors, guidance counselors, or other individuals who can attest to their academic records.
  • Resumes or personal statements allow applicants to list and explain extracurricular activities, community engagement experiences, and examples of leadership acumen.
  • In addition to broad admission requirements for online colleges and universities, individual programs often have specific stipulations, too. Learners should check with the department or program they're pursuing to make sure they provide all required documents.

Financial Requirements

Individuals undertaking an online education can benefit from a financial plan and research funding opportunities.

  • By assessing tuition, fees, textbook costs, and related educational expenses ahead of time, students can get a clear look at what they need to pay for school.
  • Additional financial considerations include room and board, commuting costs, and full- or part-time class schedules
  • When students apply to college, they should also complete a Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to see if they are eligible for loans, grants, and scholarships that can help pay for higher education.
  • Learners should also explore scholarship and grant options provided through community organizations, private funders, and professional associations

Technical Requirements

Online education requires a requisite level of technological skill. For example, students need to make sure they have access to appropriate hardware and software; a fast, reliable internet connection; and basic computer skills, like typing.

  • Online learners can complete coursework on a desktop computer or a laptop. Some handheld devices may allow for engagement with an online class, but they are often insufficient for meeting all online course demands.
  • Specific software requirements vary by program, but students generally need word processing capabilities, anti-virus software to ensure safety, and a browser that can access a school's learning management system. Some schools require students to download specific software.
  • Online classes may require students to use a webcam for meetings with classmates and instructors. Headphones can optimize this experience and allow for privacy and clarity when working in noisy or busy environments.
  • Students should also consider investing in tools like a printer, a scanner, and a flash drive, to save coursework.

Your online education checklist should also include personal requirements for successful learning.

  • Students should create a schedule that keeps them on track for completing coursework alongside work obligations, family time, and other personal considerations.
  • Online education allows learners to earn a degree at home, but finding a quiet workspace is essential to success. Set up a home office to help yourself succeed.

Parents and guardians should assess childcare options as they enter an online program.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Much Does Online College Usually Cost?

The cost of online college varies by institution and program. For example, students may have opportunities to earn a degree or certificate on an accelerated timeline, significantly cutting the overall expense. Many online colleges offer the same tuition rates for both in- and out-of-state students, which is usually not true for traditional, on-campus options.

Is Online College a Good Idea?

For many students, online college is a good idea. Online education provides a flexible, convenient route to a degree for individuals who work full time, have personal obligations, or cannot attend classes in an on-campus setting. Online colleges and universities can facilitate career advancement and build technical skills, all from the comfort of one's home.

What Do Employers Think of Online Degrees?

Online curricula and requirements are often the same as those for an on-campus program. Online learners earn the same degrees as on-campus students, usually with no distinction indicated on their transcripts. Earning an online degree can be a great way to supplement and enhance existing knowledge and skills without interrupting your career.

What Are the Advantages of Online Classes?

Online classes allow students to study on a timeline and in a format that meets their needs. Online classes may be offered in an asynchronous or synchronous format, meaning students can choose the format that best fits their schedule and study style. Additionally, online courses are often easier to personalize, especially for students who need to re-listen to lectures or work through materials more slowly to fully understand them. Plus, there's no commute time or cost with an online program.

Can Online Classes Tell if You Cheat?

Online classes often integrate software to assess for plagiarism and cheating. Plagiarism checkers, video proctoring, and IP tracking can all help instructors check for cheating. Online learners who cheat experience the same consequences as any student violating rules of academic dishonesty. Penalties can include failing an assignment, failing a class, or suspension or even expulsion from an institution.

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