Online colleges — Meet me in the middle

By Hannah Plehaty

Perhaps your student is a free spirit, or is burnt out after a stressful high school career. She may be eager to travel, take a gap year, or just work, but your instincts say that school should be the priority.

Online colleges and courses could be the solution, allowing your student to keep one foot in the academic door while tasting life outside of a traditional institution.

Here are pros and cons to consider:


Pro: Online studies can mesh with work, travel or taking care of family because coursework can be done at any time or place with an internet connection. This enables many to pursue a degree who otherwise wouldn’t have the time or inclination.

Con: Because there is more freedom in the schedule it takes extra self-discipline to make sure assignments gets completed. Fresh out of high school and eager for new experiences, your student may have a hard time with time management. Without a set time and place to meet with others for a lecture or study group, she is solely responsible for her own progress.


Con: Even without a facility fee, online college courses can be expensive, often costing three or four-hundred dollars per credit hour depending on the institution. Other fees may be tacked on for books, access to online resources, and database subscriptions.

Pro: Your student can apply for and receive financial aid, just like at any other institution. This U.S. News and World Report article is a helpful guide to the process.

Pro: By accumulating college credits through online courses before transferring to a four-year school, students should be able to graduate in less than four years, thus paying less in room, board, and tuition over time; they may also be able to enter the workforce more quickly.

Pro: MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are abundantly available and often offered for free. Ivy League schools such as Harvard offer MOOCs, and while few can be taken for actual college credit, some offer a certificate of completion for a fee. Sites like and have lists and search engines to help navigate the options.


Pro: Many colleges and universities accept transfer credits from online courses. If your student knows which four-year school he wants to attend at the end of a gap year or two, he should double check that the school accepts credits from the online program he enrolls in.

Con: If your student chooses a MOOC (Massive Open Online Course), at most he will earn a certificate, not actual college credit. This is why currently MOOCs are most popular with students who already possess a degree.


It is important for your student to know her own learning style.

Pro: Online colleges and courses have a vast network of support such as interactive forums and discussion boards where students can ask questions. It is also standard practice for the instructor to be available for direct questions via email.

Con: Your student will not have face-to-face contact with her peers or professors.


Pro: Your student is not tied to one geographic location. He can take a gap year and explore the globe and still keep up by being enrolled in a few online courses.

Con: Your student will not be able to take advantage of an institution’s facilities if he is far from the campus. (In many cases online students are allowed to use fitness centers, libraries, and other facilities.) 

Did you enjoy reading this article? Sign up for UniversityParent’s weekly eNewsletter and purchase the Guide to Supporting Your Student’s Freshman Year for additional tips, insight, and to help your college student succeed. You may also add to the discussion and get feedback from fellow college parents by joining our Community Forum and College Parents’ Facebook group.

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