Recently, there has been a dramatic increase in the number and variety of online college courses offered, and many colleges have opened enrollment for their web courses to high school and prospective college students. Online courses offer a unique opportunity for high school students to get a taste for college level work, which can prove invaluable as they plan their immediate future. This article is designed to help these young students get the most out of digital course offerings.
Free Online Programs
A number of top schools now offer free courses online, such as those taught through Coursera. With Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC), instructors and professors from the best universities teach thousands of students from around the world, for free. By employing innovative methods, online schools like Udacity use podcasts and the newest open source management platforms to help students master topics regardless of where they live. Although MOOCs are generally free, in order to earn a certificate of proficiency, most schools charge a modest fee.
Online Programs from Top Universities
A number of top universities have embraced online education. Schools like the University of Michigan, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cal Tech and Harvard all participate in MOOC programs. Others, like Johns Hopkins, offer distance learning graduate programs completely online. Some top schools even offer accredited online undergraduate degrees, such as Penn State.
Online Classes vs. Traditional College Prep
Advanced Placement Courses
To prepare for college and get a leg-up, many students take Advanced Placement (AP) courses. It is generally less expensive to take an AP course than an online college or university class. AP exams cost between $50 and $120 typically, compared with at least $600 per course through a university. In some places, the cost for the AP exam is subsidized, so if it is offered, an AP class may be a good choice.
AP courses are not without their downsides. Students may only take and test in AP classes offered through their school – so if your school does not offer statistics, you are out of luck. Similarly, not all colleges will give full credit for AP courses, if at all. Third, students who take AP courses in high school may miss out on other high school opportunities, as there are only so many hours in a high school day.
Early College Enrollment
High school students are sometimes able to take college courses while still completing their high school diplomas. With some early college classes, students may take a course in high school that has been accredited by a college, thereby earning credit for college and high school at the same time. Other early college programs allow high school students to attend classes on campus or participate in online courses.
In fact, some high schools have transitioned to become Early College High Schools. These innovative programs blend high school and college, compress the time it takes to earn a high school degree, and help students earn two years of college credit.
On the downside, not every student has early college opportunities available. In order to participate in early college, students must usually score sufficiently high on a test, like the SAT or ACT, or on a proficiency test. Furthermore, some early college programs charge students the full cost of tuition.
High School College Prep
Many high schools offer college preparatory courses to help students get ready for university. Requiring four years of English, and at least three of social studies, math and science, these high school programs force kids into a rigorous academic program, leaving them little time for "fun" courses and electives.
Although parents insist these programs are necessary for college success, recent research has called into question the efficacy of such demanding high school curriculums. In fact, a 2007 study found that only 25% of students who completed the college prep curriculum were well prepared for college-level work. According to researchers, many college freshmen are simply not prepared for the demands of post-secondary education, particularly when it comes to writing and math.
Private schools, like Kaplan and StraighterLine, offer online preparatory courses, such as developmental writing and math; these schools charge fees similar to some online colleges. Many students take advantage of free open content course materials to get themselves up-to-speed, such as the resources provided through MIT Open Courseware; while these students will not earn college credit, they acquire the skills they need to "test out" of developmental courses – a great start to a collegiate career.
Although college campuses are not going to be replaced anytime soon, traditional college is changing rapidly. With online course management software becoming increasingly efficient and nimble, and demand for online courses growing, even the most ivy-covered institutions are offering online courses and programs. For students just beginning their college careers, taking advantage of digital learning opportunities means an easy leg up on their college coursework.