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Many students of traditional universities opt to take online classes to supplement their degree plans. Some take them along with their regular course loads during the spring or fall academic terms, but it is much more common to take an online course during the breaks between semesters. The freedom of an online schedule and the ability to transfer those credits directly into your college transcript without the time commitment make online courses very appealing during school breaks. But there are many things students need to consider before enrolling in just any online course. Here are a few tips for choosing and taking online classes between terms:

1. Read the fine print.

Not all online programs are made equal. It’s very important to get as much information as you can about the institution offering the class and its accreditation organization. Any online program offered by an institution that is not listed as accredited by the U.S. Department of Education should be avoided, as the credits will not be valid in the U.S. Also, there are many differences between online programs. Some have an on-campus requirement, most do not. Some have an asynchronous learning program (you can access lectures and complete work 24/7), while others have synchronous platforms (students meet online as specific times to listen to lectures). Decide which you prefer before enrolling.

2. Ensure your credits will transfer before enrolling.

Even if your online program is accredited by an established institution, there is still no guarantee that your college or university will accept the credit. Once you have a few programs narrowed down, call your registrar and ask if that specific course will be acceptable for transfer and will count as a required credit toward your degree plan. Better yet, before searching any online programs, check with your registrar to see if they have acceptable online institutions on file or if they have records of courses that have transferred in the past. This will save you the time of checking and double checking.

3. Plan ahead for the time commitment.

An online class is no different from a traditional class, and students should plan for that. In fact, there are many aspects of an online course that are more time-consuming that an on-campus class. Students are often required to write on discussion boards as part of required “attendance.” This lets the online professor know who has been following the material, and it is an essential part of passing the course. Students in on-campus courses are able to attend lectures and completely zone out if they choose, but still be counted present. Students in online classes are also on their own to listen to lectures and do reading and assignments, without the opportunity to get them out of the way quickly on campus.

4. Be disciplined about your schedule if you want to have fun.

Taking any course during a break between academic terms will be a distraction from the relaxation and fun most students want to have during their breaks. However, there is no reason you can’t take an online course and still have fun at the same time. The only thing you need to do is set up a strict schedule for yourself and stick to it. If you study a bit every day (or at least every other day), you will be able to avoid those long all-nighters and assignments creeping into the time you would rather spend hanging out with friends. A good way to structure your time is to figure out the time of day you usually spend doing nothing and what time day you typically want to do something fun. Schedule your study time into your “do nothing” moments and leave important time slots open for free time.

Do you have any other tips for students thinking of taking online classes?

Featured photo credit: nyuhuhuu via photopin cc. This is a guest post by Katheryn Rivas.