Should I Take Online Classes in the Fall of 2020?

by TBS Staff

Updated September 16, 2022 is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Colleges and universities face an uncertain future. COVID-19 has pushed nearly every college in the country entirely online, and many students are wondering: Will college be online in fall of 2020?

The situation may yet change in the next few months, but students are considering their options for the fall: whether to take a gap year, commit to studying online, or tentatively proceed as previously planned.

Even before the coronavirus pandemic, millions of students took college classes and earned degrees online. In 2017, more than 6.5 million students enrolled in distance education courses, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (NCES).

While facing coronavirus restrictions, new and returning students may prefer to attend a college that has experience delivering instruction online. These schools already offer dedicated online programs and are well-prepared for the moment. Unlike campus-based classes, which had to shift online abruptly in the middle of the term, dedicated online programs are equipped with the tools and technology students need to succeed and are taught by faculty who have experience with the online format.

What Are Online Classes Like?

Many students prefer an online learning format, for a variety of reasons. A 2019 report on student satisfaction found that online learners report significantly higher satisfaction rates compared to on-campus students.

Online classes typically offer greater flexibility than on-campus courses, allowing students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations.

Online classes include many of the same elements as on-campus classes, including lectures, assignments, and exams. However, students complete coursework in a virtual learning environment. For example, online students may watch streamed lectures on Zoom or access recorded lectures on a learning management system, like Canvas or Blackboard.

Online classes typically offer greater flexibility than on-campus courses, allowing students to balance their studies with personal and professional obligations. Asynchronous online courses offer more flexibility than synchronous classes because they do not require set meeting times. Students seeking more structure may prefer synchronous courses, which do require students to log on at set times.

Some online programs adhere to the same quarter or semester schedules as on-campus programs. However, many colleges and universities also offer accelerated or self-paced online programs that allow students to expedite graduation.

Learn more about attending school online with our guide to online colleges.

Can I Study My Preferred Subject Online?

Online colleges grant degrees in many fields, including the liberal arts, business, healthcare, education, information technology, and engineering. Many schools also offer general education classes online to help students finish graduation requirements in a flexible format.

Even majors that require in-person learning can offer online options. For example, nursing students can often do coursework online and complete clinical requirements at approved local sites. Similarly, students pursuing an online teaching degree can take online courses and complete student-teaching requirements at a local school.

Online classes at accredited institutions meet the same high standards as in-person classes. In many programs, online students complete the same curriculum and take classes from the same faculty members as on-campus students.

How Does Online College Work?

Online colleges operate similarly to campus colleges. In fact, some campus colleges and universities offer online programs taught by the same instructors who teach on campus.

Just as they would for an on-campus program, prospective online students must apply to their chosen college and submit application materials like transcripts and standardized test scores. They may also need to complete an admission interview.

Many colleges offer fully online programs with no in-person requirements. Online classes that do have in-person requirements may rely on simulations, local sites, or other formats to meet those requirements.

Online schools typically offer more start dates throughout the year than on-campus programs. For instance, they may admit new students on a rolling basis, or offer six or more start dates per year.

Coronavirus will affect higher education, changing the typical admission process and pushing many students to consider a gap year or enroll at accredited online colleges, which have a proven track record in delivering effective online education.

What Do I Need to Study Online?

Online students need a computer and internet access to stream lectures, complete online assignments, and take exams. Most online colleges provide tech support to help students with technology problems.

Online learners in certain majors may also need to find a local site to complete any clinical or lab requirements. For example, nursing majors often need to complete clinicals at a local hospital.

How Do I Complete Labs and Clinicals While Campus Is Closed?

Many majors require in-person components, like labs, student teaching experience, and clinicals. Historically, an online student could meet these requirements by working at an approved site in their community.

However, the coronavirus may close some of those sites indefinitely. Online colleges have approached this challenge in several ways. Some schools are postponing clinical requirements, allowing students to continue with coursework and postpone their clinicals to a later date, while others have switched to video labs or simulations to meet those requirements. Students considering prospective schools should contact the relevant department head with any questions they have about labs, clinicals, or any other in-person requirements.

What Are the Biggest Challenges of Online Classes?

Despite their myriad benefits, online classes pose some unique challenges. For instance, many online programs are less structured than on-campus programs, which means students need strong self-motivation and self-discipline. Additionally, the technology requirements of online classes may be a barrier for some learners.

Many online programs are less structured than on-campus programs, which means students need strong self-motivation and self-discipline.

Students can also struggle to adapt to a distance learning format. A recent study on the impact of COVID-19 on higher education warned about the psychological health of students. The abrupt closure of campuses and transition to distance learning created a major disruption for students. Faculty members also faced the difficult task of quickly transitioning their courses into an online format.

Many online colleges provide time-management resources and orientations to ease the transition to online learning. They may also support learners with online tutoring, academic advising, and other student services. Students can increase their chances of succeeding in an online learning environment by reaching out to their colleges for support.

Important Things to Consider About Online Higher Education in 2020

Researching online higher education can help students find the best fit for their needs in these unique times.

Should I Delay My Enrollment?

The coronavirus outbreak upended high school graduation for millions of students. College-bound seniors have been left wondering if they should delay college enrollment until the pandemic ends. Many schools let students apply for admission extensions or take gap years before enrolling. Taking a gap year can help students gain work or internship experience before attending college.

In lieu of a gap year, students can begin attending college by choosing an online program. Learners should ensure the online college they attend holds accreditation, which indicates that the school meets high standards with respect to student learning outcomes, academic rigor, and faculty qualifications.

Can I Return to Campus After Studying Online?

Even before COVID-19, many college students took a mix of online and on-campus classes. In fact, in 2017, over 3 million students took at least one online course.

On-campus students considering online classes in 2020 can choose from several options. Current students can research online programs offered by their college or university. This option does not require applying to a new school or going through the transfer process.

Students can also enroll in a new online program, which requires applying to an online school as a transfer student. Students who choose this option should make sure that credits earned at their on-campus programs will transfer to their new programs.

Will Employers Take My Online Degree Seriously?

The majority of employers do not distinguish between online and on-campus degrees when evaluating potential candidates. Accredited online degrees meet the same quality standards as on-campus degrees. In fact, at many schools, the same instructors teach both online and on-campus classes. At these schools, online students complete the same assignments and graduation requirements as on-campus students, and they receive the same diplomas.

Learn more about online degrees and employment.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Should I Go to Online College?

Online colleges prioritize flexibility, convenience, and affordability. An online learning format particularly appeals to students balancing their studies with personal and professional obligations.

Is Online College Worth It?

An accredited online college meets the same standards as on-campus schools, positioning graduates for the same career opportunities. An accredited online degree is just as "worth it" as a degree earned on campus.

Is Online College Cheaper Than In-Person Classes?

Many schools offer tuition discounts for online students, usually by offering in-state tuition rates to all online students regardless of where they live. Additionally, online students save on many of the expenses that on-campus students incur, such as housing and commuting costs.

Are Online Degrees Easier?

Online degrees from accredited schools meet the same rigorous academic standards as on-campus degrees, so they are typically equally challenging.

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