Best Online College Courses for Credit [2020 Guide]

The best online college courses come from an accredited university, are convenient for you to take, and cost less than on-campus classes. See what taking classes online can do for you!

Online College Courses

More universities are offering online college classes to meet demand from students. Online courses are especially convenient for working adults because they allow you to manage your schoolwork around your schedule.

Most Popular Degrees with Online College Courses

When comparing an online college vs traditional college, online colleges are gaining popularity because of their flexibility and affordability. But which online degree program is right for you?

Click on the degree you’re interested in to jump to that part of the page.

Not every school offers classes and labs that can be taken online, so you’ll need to consider your options and choose carefully.

Accounting

chief financial officer sees financial summary reports with his team

Accountants deal with numbers. Depending on their specific job, they might be an auditor, bookkeeper, budget analyst, or financial planner. They might deal with everything from tax records to bank statements to invoices.

You can get an accounting degree as both an undergraduate and graduate student.

An associate degree in accounting will qualify you for entry-level jobs like payroll clerk; a bachelor or master’s degree in accounting will move you up the ladder into things like controller, market analyst, and chief financial officer.

You can specialize in different fields of accounting. For example, environmental accountants help companies with going green or complying with pollution laws. Forensic accountants work with banks and government agencies to detect fraud. Tax accountants handle things like audits and filings.

To improve your chances of employment, you’ll probably want to get a professional certification.

The most common is becoming a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), but you can also get qualified as a Certified Management Accountant (CMA) or Chartered Financial Advisor (CFA).


As someone seeking an accounting degree, your course map will look a little something like this:

  • Principles of Accounting
  • Macroeconomics and Microeconomics
  • Statistics
  • Auditing
  • Ethics in Business
  • Strategic Management
  • Accounting Information Systems
  • Financial Management
  • College Algebra + Calculus

The job growth for this industry is 11%. Some common jobs include:

  • Forensic Accountant ($77,430)
  • Certified Public Accountant ($73,800)
  • Budget Analyst ($60,237)
  • Tax Preparer ($46,860)
  • Payroll Clerk ($38,522)

If you’re good with numbers, an accounting degree at any level can get you started in the workforce. From there, you can seek advanced qualifications like the CPA or CMA.

Business Administration

young administrative clerk doing paperwork and talking on the phone

Business administration is a wide-ranging field that combines many different fields of study. At its core, it’s devoted to business skills that you can use in everyday life within a company or corporation, but it can also involve law, finance, sales, marketing, accounting, and technology.

Since it’s a diverse field, its jobs and salaries are diverse as well. You can earn as much as $111,340 per year as a training and development manager, but that’s after years of experience. You’ll probably start smaller with an entry-level job like administrative clerk that makes $23,000 – $46,000 per year.

Business administration is sometimes known as “business management,” and there’s debate within the community if there’s a true difference between the two.

Your school might label it either way, or they might offer different degree tracks for it. For example, you might be able to obtain a BA/BS in Business Management or a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA).


No matter what your degree is called, however, you’ll learn important business skills with business administration courses. Here’s a small sample of what you can expect to take:

  • Business Communications
  • Principles of Business Management
  • Principles of Finance
  • Accounting
  • E-Commerce
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Business Policy and Strategy
  • Quality Management
  • Marketing
  • Leadership

The job growth for this industry is 6%. Some common jobs include:

  • Production Manager ($97,140)
  • Corporate Executive ($78,359)
  • Sales Manager ($75,749)
  • Business Consultant ($73,512)
  • Financial Analyst ($60,426)

A degree in business administration can definitely take you places. If you aren’t afraid of hard work, long hours, and clawing your way to the top, this is an industry where you can reap large rewards.

Communications

young journalist checking documents

The field of communications is all about the way that human beings engage with each other. From addressing the public to creating networks of information in the workplace, it revolves around the exchange of ideas.

Communications jobs are found in every industry. You can become an expert in public relations or human resources; you can become a journalist, marketer, writer, editor, or health educator.

People going into communications usually choose a specialty. For example, if they’re interested in business, they might take classes in global relations and become a liaison between foreign companies.

If they dream of being in front of a camera, they can take classes in public speaking to prepare them for a career as a reporter, sports announcer, or five o’clock news anchor.

You can get a communications degree at every level. For an associate degree, you’ll start with basic composition and communication classes. As your studies get more advanced, you’ll learn about mass media, public relations, and specialized writing techniques for newsrooms and press releases.


Your course list will include variations of the following:

  • Communication Theory
  • Media, Culture and Society
  • Communication Research Methods
  • Public Relations
  • Media Ethics
  • Journalism
  • Technical Writing
  • Business Communication
  • Organizational Communications
  • Marketing and Statistical Analysis

The job growth for this industry is 4%. Some common jobs include:

  • Digital Producer ($74,200)
  • Technical Writer ($73,160)
  • Public Relations Specialist ($66,540)
  • Interpreter or Translator ($49,930)
  • News Correspondent ($43,490)

If you like the thought of delivering speeches, writing public service announcements, and managing the flow of information between clients and companies, you might enjoy a career in communications.

Computer Science

mobile app developer working on her computer

Computer science is the study of computers and how they can be used for business, security, entertainment, and everything in between.

There are many jobs in computer science for the tech-savvy student. If you’re interested in a corporate position, you can work as a data scientist, network engineer, or information systems manager.

If you’re the artistic type, you can become a web or software developer who coordinates with other creatives to design apps and video games.

You can also choose to specialize. Coders can learn multiple programming languages; cybersecurity students can take various courses in computer forensics. You can even branch off from computer science into a related field like robotics.

As for your salary, you’re probably aware that computer science degrees can result in enormous paydays. It’s quite common for wages to exceed $100,000 per year, and this is just the average sum. The top earners in the field can take home even more.

The particularly lucky ones are the entrepreneurs who rake in millions as they develop apps and sell stocks in software.


If you’re interested in computer science, here’s what your courses might look like:

  • Computer Programming
  • Data Security
  • Algorithms
  • Software Engineering
  • Discrete Mathematics
  • Database Administration
  • Operating Systems
  • Information Technology (IT)
  • Web Development
  • Artificial Intelligence

The job growth for this industry is 12%. Some common jobs include:

  • Software Developer ($105,590)
  • Database Administrator ($90,070)
  • Computer Systems Analyst ($88,740)
  • Web Developer ($69,430)
  • Programmer ($62,717)

If you’re good with technology, computer science is one of the highest-paying career paths out there. The industry is growing by the day, so the jobs are in demand, and the specializations can pay off with six-figure salaries. It’s definitely an industry worth considering.

Criminal Justice

forensic scientist examining the crime scene

There’s a lot more to criminal justice than Law and Order re-runs.

For starters, there are more jobs in the industry than you might expect. If you’re interested in corrections, you could become everything from a prison guard to an FBI intelligence analyst. If you’re drawn to the courtroom, you could become a prosecutor, judge, attorney, or social worker.

Science lovers might enjoy a career in forensics. Humanities students might want to help the vulnerable people within the system by specializing in something like juvenile law or addiction counseling.

Criminal justice is a broad field with many opportunities. Fittingly, there are many different degree programs for it. You can earn an associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree in criminal justice, and you can take classes either online or through a traditional college campus.


Potential courses include:

  • Criminology
  • Justice, Law, and Morality
  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Forensic Science
  • Victimology
  • Criminal Law and Procedure
  • Cultural Diversity in Criminal Justice
  • Juvenile Justice/Youth Crime
  • Corrections
  • Ethics

The job growth for this industry is between 5 and 10%. Some common jobs include:

  • Criminal Defense Lawyer ($80,047)
  • Intelligence Analyst ($63,984)
  • Forensic Science Technician ($62,490)
  • Private Detective ($56,810)
  • Correctional Officer ($44,400)

Whether you’re hoping to protect society from bad guys or rehabilitate the bad guys themselves, a criminal justice degree is what you’ll need to help people in and out of the correctional system.

Economics

Certified Financial Planner talking to a couple during financial consultation

Economics is the study of resources. It’s usually centered around wealth, but it can also include goods, services, and other assets.

As you might expect, economics is a complicated field. It can involve everything from financial calculations to the study of foreign policies, and it can converge with business, finance, politics, public relations, and even social sciences.

Additionally, it’s a field that requires a lot of schooling. Employers will want a bachelor’s degree just for entry-level jobs, and you’ll need to get a master’s degree or doctorate for advancement into higher positions.

You might also be expected to earn certifications like Certified Business Economist (CBE).

The silver lining is that economic majors can make a lot of money. The average salary is $104,340 per year, and the highest earners took home a cool $182,560 per year.


If you’re interested in economics, your degree program will include the following courses:

  • Econometrics
  • Principles of Finance
  • Principles of Economics
  • Economic Behavior and Psychology
  • Macroeconomics and Microeconomics
  • International Trade
  • Statistics
  • Competition and Strategy
  • College Algebra + Calculus

The job growth for this industry is 6%. Some common jobs include:

  • Senior Product Manager ($122,00)
  • Compensation and Benefits Manager ($121,010)
  • Actuary ($102,880)
  • Credit Analyst ($82,300)
  • Certified Financial Planner ($89,400)

A degree in economics will require hard work and a large time commitment, but if you can stick it out, you can reap the rewards with a stable, high-paying career.

Education

high school teacher teaching students in a classroom

Teaching is the most common job in the educational field, but it’s far from the only one. You can also become a counselor, coach, fundraiser, policy planner, or school administrator.

As for your career track, you’ll have options there as well. Most education degrees are geared towards a particular subject such as math, science, history, or literature. You can obtain a general education degree with a specialization, or you can major in education and minor in your subject of choice.

You can also get a degree in elementary or secondary education depending on the age group that you’d like to teach. There are even early childhood education programs for preschoolers.


While your exact course list will depend on what you’re specializing in, there are a few topics that you’ll find in most education programs:

  • Classroom Management
  • Child Psychology and Development
  • Current Trends in Education
  • Education Technology
  • Diversity and Inclusion in Education
  • Language and Literacy
  • Instructional Strategies
  • Governance and Organization in Schools
  • Educational Policy

The job growth for this industry is 6%. Some common jobs include:

  • School Administrator ($64,022)
  • Guidance Counselor ($50,094)
  • High School Teacher ($49,598)
  • Middle School Teacher ($48,031)
  • Elementary School Teacher ($45,464)

One thing to note about getting an education degree online is that most programs will require in-person classroom hours before you’re qualified to teach. There are different ways to handle this requirement, but you’ll need to contact the school to get the details.

Finance

financial advisor with young couple during financial consultation

If you’re good with numbers, you might enjoy a career in finance. It can take you into many different industries since everyone needs their money managed. You could work in a bank, accounting firm, insurance company, government agency, or private company. You could even work on Wall Street.

As you might expect, a finance degree will involve a lot of math. In addition to algebra and calculus, you’ll study everything from statistics to economics. You’ll usually get a crash course in business administration as well.

You might be in school for a while if you’re aiming for a high-level job in finance. A bachelor’s degree is the minimum; many employers will ask for graduate graduates or special certifications in your field of choice.

If you aren’t afraid of hard work, however, a finance degree can lead to a big payday. The average annual salary is $81,760, and experienced professionals with high-level jobs can take home anywhere from $100,000 – $300,000 per year.


Here are some of the courses that you’ll need to get comfortable with:

  • Principles of Finance
  • Principles of Accounting
  • Investments
  • Financial Analysis
  • Banking
  • Risk Management
  • Corporate Valuation
  • Management and Organization Theory
  • Audit Institutions and Processes
  • Financial Reporting and Analysis

The job growth for this industry is 12%. Some common jobs include:

  • Hedge Fund Manager ($103,140)
  • Investment Banker ($99,020)
  • Budget Analyst ($60,258)
  • Financial Advisor ($58,795)
  • Loan Officer ($46,510)

Finance can be a highly lucrative career for the mathematically minded. You’ll need to commit to a certain amount of schooling, but the benefits are usually worth the cost.

Healthcare Administration

female receptionist talking to phone in a clinic

Healthcare administration is exactly what it sounds like: the administrative side of the healthcare industry. Whether it’s paperwork, public relations, or insurance negotiations, it’s the behind-the-scenes work that keeps clinics and hospitals going.

You can find work in healthcare administration with every type of degree. If you have an associate degree, you’ll qualify for entry-level jobs like payroll clerk and office assistant.

If you have a bachelor’s or master’s degree, you can aim for manager, budget analyst, clinic administrator, human resources specialist, or government policymaker.


You don’t need a medical background to become a healthcare administrator. Since it’s more related to the business side of things, your classes will revolve around practical skills that are useful in a corporate environment. Your course list might look a little like this:

  • Business Administration
  • Health Records Management
  • Healthcare Marketing and Communication
  • Human Resources
  • Medical Law and Ethics
  • Medical Terminology
  • Global Health and Diversity
  • Strategic Planning
  • Medical Accounting

The job growth for this industry is 17%. Some common jobs include:

  • Medical and Health Services Manager ($99,730)
  • Hospital Administrator ($86,789)
  • Laboratory/Testing Facility Manager ($69,267)
  • Insurance Analyst ($51,051)
  • Health Promotion Coordinator ($46,107)

If you’re good at administrative work, healthcare administration is one of the fastest-growing and high-paying industries to use your skills. Any kind of degree can get you started, including an online degree.

Human Resources

Recruitment Specialist talking to a job applicant in an office

Are you a people person? Do you enjoy solving problems, organizing funds, managing employees, and developing special programs? You might like a career in human resources.

A company’s human resources department is where it handles employee affairs. From payroll to conflict resolution, it plays a vital role in making the company run smoothly.

A human resources degree can prepare you for life in HR. You can obtain a general human resources degree, or you can specialize in benefits, recruitment, training, or information systems.

Your salary will depend on your skills, job title, and overall amount of experience. While the top earners in the industry can bag more than $100,000 per year, it will take time to reach that level.


Your course map for a human resources degree will include the following:

  • Introduction to Human Resources
  • Business Ethics
  • Employment Law
  • Compensation and Benefits
  • Diversity Studies
  • Principles of Budgeting
  • Recruiting and Hiring
  • Human Resource Strategy and Development
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Labor Economics

The job growth for this industry is 5 – 9%. Some common jobs include:

  • Compensation and Benefits Manager ($121,010)
  • Human Resources Director ($88,042(
  • Training and Development Specialist ($63,829)
  • Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS) Analyst ($66,102)
  • Recruitment Specialist ($49,315)

A human resources degree is a smart choice for anyone interested in HR. You can earn an associate, bachelor’s, and master’s degree in human resources, so it’s just a matter of choosing which program is right for you.

Information Technology

Software Engineer working on computer

You’ve probably heard a lot about information technology (IT) in the context of tech support. They’re the people that you call when your phone stops working, or your laptop screen goes black.

There’s more to IT than resolving issues, however. It can overlap with business, finance, computer science, social science, and technology to become a multidisciplinary skill with tons of job opportunities.

For example, you can get many technical jobs with an IT degree. You can become a database administrator or cloud architect. You can build apps or tear down firewalls. If you’re the creative type, you can let your imagination run wild as a coder, software engineer, or web developer.


The average salary for IT professionals is $82,860, so it’s a high-paying career for those with the right skill set. Check out some of these IT courses and see if they intrigue you:

  • Introduction to Operating Systems
  • Database Programming
  • Cybersecurity
  • Network Systems Administration
  • Web Design
  • Software Development
  • Data Analytics
  • Digital Forensics
  • Robotics and Artificial Intelligence
  • Programming
  • Logic

The job growth for this industry is 12%. Some common jobs include:

  • Software Engineer ($84,870)
  • Data Modeler ($81,225)
  • Information Technology (IT) Consultant ($78,664)
  • Mobile Applications Developer ($73,375)
  • Information Security Analyst ($71,602)

Are you skilled at solving problems? Do you like to stay on the cutting edge of technology? Consider a degree in information technology. You can get started with an online program in no time.

Management

Financial Manager brainstorming with her team during a meeting

Management degrees are for leaders. It takes a certain level of skill to direct and delegate, and it requires a certain amount of confidence to assume responsibility for money, resources, projects, and people. Not everyone can do it.

If you aren’t afraid to wield a little authority, however, a management degree might be the right choice for you.

Some schools offer a BA or BS in management and supervision. Others only have management as a concentration for majors in business, finance, and human resources.

There are also certificates that you can get for management, but you’ll want to be careful with those. They don’t hold the same weight as a degree, and some don’t even come from accredited colleges or business programs.


To find a worthwhile management program, look for the following courses:

  • Principles of Management
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Management Theory and Practices
  • Operational Decision Making
  • Customer Relations for Managers
  • Management Information Systems
  • Statistics
  • Principles of Finance
  • Business Law and Ethics
  • Leadership and Group Dynamics

The job growth for this industry is 7%. Some common jobs include:

  • Financial Manager ($127,990)
  • Industrial Production Manager ($103,380)
  • Administrative Services Manager ($96,180)
  • Emergency Management Director ($74,420)
  • Lodging Manager ($53,390)

It won’t be a walk in the park to get a management degree, but if you have what it takes, you’ll find opportunities in dozens of industries with a median salary of $104,240.

Marketing

Creative director collaborating with team for a branding project

A marketing degree is a flexible, creative degree that can take you in many different directions.

Despite what you may think, it isn’t all about advertising. You can apply the skills that you learn with a marketing degree towards a career as an event planner, admissions rep, promotions agent, or public relations specialist.

If you do want to work in advertising, there are plenty of jobs in the private sector. Entry-level jobs include marketing assistants and social media interns; higher-paid positions can range from art directors to project planners.

A nice thing about marketing degrees is that they’re available at every educational tier, so you can get started with nothing more than a two-year associate degree. If you desire more education, you can go for a bachelor’s or master’s degree.


Your classes will depend on the type of degree that you’re working towards, but here are a few fundamentals for a marketing major:

  • Principles of Marketing
  • Principles of Finance
  • Consumer Behavior
  • Digital Media
  • Marketing Planning and Strategy
  • Product and Price Management
  • Marketing Research
  • Public Relations
  • Business to Business Marketing

The job growth for this industry is 9%. Some common jobs include:

  • Chief marketing officer ($172,039 per year)
  • Advertising, Promotions, and Marketing Managers ($132,620)
  • Creative director ($85,000)
  • Media planner ($55,301)
  • Social media specialist ($43,787)

As you can see, marketing jobs run the gamut in terms of salary. If you want a high-paying job, you’ll probably need to put in the time and get an advanced degree.

Nursing

nurses walking on hospital hallway

Nurses are the backbone of the healthcare system, and there’s going to be an even higher demand for them in the coming years. Industry experts predict a nursing shortage that will result in thousands of open jobs.

There are many different types of nurses. They exist on a hierarchy that starts with certified nursing assistants (CNAs) and goes through registered nurses (RNs) and into advanced practical registered nurses (APRNs) and even chief nursing officers (CNOs).

You might be familiar with two-year programs that qualify nurses for work in clinics and hospitals, but you can also obtain a four-year degree. It’s called a bachelor of science in nursing (BSN), and you can concentrate your studies on different specialties like pediatric nursing or critical care nursing.

You can also obtain a BSN even if you’ve already completed an associate degree in nursing. It’s quite common for RNs to go back to school and apply those two years to a four-year degree.


If you opt for a bachelor’s degree in nursing, your class schedule will look like this:

  • Psychology
  • Human Anatomy and Physiology
  • Microbiology/Bacteriology
  • Information Technology and Healthcare
  • Clinical Problem Solving
  • Nutrition and Diet
  • Principles of Chemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Genetics
  • Leadership in Nursing Practice

The job growth for this industry is 16%. Some common jobs include:

  • Surgical Nurse ($74,197)
  • Pediatric Nurse ($65,500)
  • Intensive Care Nurse ($62,000)
  • Hospice Nurse ($65,269)
  • Obstetric and Gynecological Nurse ($60,000)

A nursing degree can open many doors, especially when it’s a BSN. You’ll have many opportunities for personal and professional development on this career track.

Project Management

project manager discussing with her team

From product launches to advertising campaigns, businesses are run on projects. A project management degree can qualify you for the leadership roles to handle them.

First and foremost, you’ll learn about business. You’ll learn how to create budgets, analyze data, organize sales figures, research market trends, and make risk assessments. You’ll also learn about human behavior and how to effectively manage employees.

If you specialize, you can also learn the ins and outs of a specific industry. For example, if you major in project management with a minor in supply chain operations, you’ll be well-equipped to oversee a warehouse or distribution center.


The average salary for project managers is $73,750 per year, so it attracts a lot of business students. Here are some of the courses that you can expect:

  • Principles of Management
  • Principles of Accounting
  • Macroeconomics and Microeconomics
  • Project Management Tools
  • Marketing
  • Business Law
  • Introduction to Information Systems
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Ethics in Business
  • Fundamentals of Leadership

The job growth for this industry is 7%. Some common jobs include:

  • Construction Manager ($111,232)
  • Logistician ($74,600)
  • Project Manager ($73,750)
  • Management Analyst ($66,237)
  • Sales Manager ($60,619)

A project management degree will teach you a lot of the same things as a business degree, but it will also prepare you for a leadership role within companies and corporations. It’s a good choice for intelligent, self-motivated students with an interest in business.

Psychology

school counselor talking to a child

A psychology major is focused on human behavior. It might involve the scientific side of neurology and biology; it might involve the more interpretive side of mood, personality, and emotional wellbeing. Either way, it’s a degree program that will take you deep into the human psyche.

A common misconception about psychologists is that they all do the same thing. The truth is that psychology has many different specialties, so you could find work as a clinical, social, developmental, or cognitive psychologist.

You could work with kids, families, addicts, seniors, veterans, school students, and more.

You could also use a bachelor’s degree in psychology as a foundation for further study. If you get a PhD or PsyD in psychiatry, for example, you can become a doctor who is allowed to administer medication to your patients. You’ll also see a huge pay increase to the tune of $220,380 annually.


The most common courses in a psychology degree program are focused on behavior:

  • Abnormal Psychology
  • Cognitive Psychology
  • Sexuality and Human Behavior
  • Research Methods in Psychology
  • Addiction Counseling
  • Childhood Development
  • Sociology
  • Organizational Behavior
  • Crisis Management and Response
  • Diversity, Culture, and Psychology

The job growth for this industry is 14%. Some common jobs include:

  • Psychologist ($79,010)
  • Public Relations Specialist ($60,000)
  • School Counselor ($56,310)
  • Human Resources Specialist ($50,769)
  • Social Worker ($47,980)

Consider a psychology degree if you’re interested in the human mind and how it works. An online degree program can get you started on a two- or four-year program, and you’ll be one step closer to a profitable career.

Sports Management

trainer showing the exercises to a client

Athletes aren’t the only ones who can make a lot of money in sports. With a degree in sports management, you can become everything from a talent scout to an athletic marketing manager, and the paydays will be impressive.

The highest earners are people like NFL coaches. Their contracts can be worth millions, so their jobs are highly coveted.

Even without a multimillion-dollar deal, however, you can enjoy a high salary with a sports management degree. Promotions managers make more than $100,000 per year. Sports agents are just above $90,000 per year.

There are other jobs to consider, as well. If you focus your degree on nutrition, fitness, and kinesiology, you could become an athletic trainer. If you’re good with paperwork, you could take classes in business administration and work on deals and contract negotiations.


Here are a few classes that you might find in a sports management course list:

  • Accounting
  • Sports Marketing Analytics
  • Business Communication
  • Sports Facility Design and Management
  • Contemporary Issues in Sport
  • Media and Public Relations
  • Human Resource Management
  • E-Marketing

The job growth for this industry is between 8 and 11%. Some common jobs include:

  • Sports Marketing Manager ($134,290)
  • Event Specialist ($90,200)
  • Athletic Director ($88,240)
  • Facilities Operations Manager ($70,226)
  • Trainer ($42,134)

Sports management is offered as a degree by more than 500 colleges. For students who love the game, it’s a worthwhile career path.

How Do Online College Courses Work?

How Do Online College Courses Work

Most college courses are run on a learning management system (LMS). This is basically a web portal where students can log in, get assignments, check their grades, contact their professors, and access tech support.

As for the coursework, there are a couple of ways that it can be completed:

  • Synchronous courses are when students and teachers are online at the same time. The teachers live-stream their lectures or open group chats for debates and discussions. They might also host webinars or video conferences where students are expected to participate via webcam.
  • Asynchronous courses, also known as “self-paced” courses, are when students complete their assignments on their own schedule. The lectures are pre-recorded and can be accessed at any time, and the required readings are all archived. The teachers monitor the students’ progress remotely.

For synchronous courses, attendance may or may not be recorded. For asynchronous courses, there might be weekly quizzes or check-ins to ensure that the students are staying on track.

Exams can be taken in several ways. If you live near a local campus, you can take it there under the supervision of a proctor.

If you’re a distance learner, you might be asked to take the exam through a special browser that can monitor your actions via software or forbid you from undertaking web searches.

Lab work can be done in an online course, too. It usually involves simulations or monitored live streams. Some programs will allow you to work at a local lab that has been approved by the program director.

Other Types of Online Courses

student studying on her computer

In addition to the classes offered by online degree programs, there are a few other types that might interest you:

MOOCs

Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are self-paced, self-directed classes that anyone can take. They’re available for every subject that you can imagine, and you don’t have to be “qualified” to take them. If they interest you, just click on them and start learning.

You can usually join an MOOC whenever you want, but some have a set starting and ending date, just like a regular college course. You can drop out as you please. There’s no penalty for not finishing them.

Many MOOCs are free. This means that you can enjoy college-level studies without paying a dime.

The one downside of MOOCs is that they don’t usually count for college credit. There are some exceptions, but for the most part, you just take a MOOC for the learning experience. It won’t help you with the academic requirements of your degree.

OpenCourseWare

OpenCourseWare is college classes that are offered for free by universities. They’re “open” courses that you can take even if you aren’t enrolled in the school.

OpenCourseWare classes are usually more structured than MOOCs. They mimic real college classes, and in many cases, they use the same textbooks and issue the same assignments.

They require you to register, and it’s possible to flunk them. This is because some of their courses can be counted for college credit or certification programs upon completion.

The biggest providers of OpenCourseWare are edX and Coursera, but there are others as well.

Some MOOCs are OpenCourseWare classes and vice versa. You might also see some people using the term interchangeably even though there are differences between them.

Vocational and Technical Training

Some community colleges and vocational schools will let you take their classes even if you aren’t a student. They won’t count for college credit unless you enroll, but you might be able to earn a certification or proof of completion for workplace training.

Some classes will require a classroom presence, especially if they’re teaching highly technical skills. Others can be completed totally or partially online. You’ll see a lot of “hybrid” classes that combine online and in-person elements.

If you’re interested in these types of courses, start calling schools. Only they can tell you about their specific rules, requirements, and admission criteria.

Online Learning Platforms

If you want to try online classes without committing to a full-fledged degree program, consider an online learning platform like Skillshare or Khan Academy.

They offer web-based classes in everything from foreign languages to computer programming, and you can use them to learn new things, brush up on old skills, or just familiarize yourself with the format of digital classes.

Some online learning platforms are free. Others will require a monthly membership fee, or they’ll ask you to pay for specific classes that you take.

It’s rare for these types of courses to qualify for college credit, so don’t expect it. Instead, treat them as a trial run for an online degree program, or use them to teach yourself remedial subjects before you take your college’s placement tests. They’re useful but limited.

What Is the Importance of Accredited Online College Courses?

logos of six accreditation boards for American colleges

Accreditation is a review process for colleges. Accreditation boards will look at the school, evaluate their degree programs, and make sure that they meet certain standards.

The accreditation process is voluntary, but almost everyone does it. It’s a requirement by the government if the school wants to receive federal financial aid, and most employers will want your degree to come from an accredited college.

There are six accreditation boards for American colleges:

  • Northwest Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools
  • Western Association of Schools and Colleges
  • Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
  • New England Association of Schools and Colleges
  • North Central Association of Colleges and Schools

There are also accreditation boards for certain industries. Here’s a small sample:

  • Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs
  • Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology
  • Accrediting Council on Education in Journalism and Mass Communications

You can search their websites to look for schools that they’ve accredited, or you can look on the website of your chosen school to see what accreditation that they mention.

Financial Aid for Taking Classes Online

screenshot of FAFSA website

If you’re taking classes through an online degree program, you’ll pay for them like any other course. Their cost will be part of your tuition. They’ll also be eligible for any financial aid that you receive, which can take many different forms:

  • The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) can offer thousands of dollars in grants and loans. Grants don’t have to be paid back, so they’re essentially free money for college. There are several grants that you can receive through FAFSA.
  • Loans can supplement tuition costs that aren’t covered by grants. There are two types: subsidized and unsubsidized. Subsidized loans are for students who can prove financial need, including online students. The government will pay the interest on them while you’re in school.
  • Scholarships can pay for some of your schooling. There are scholarships for just about everything under the sun, including online students. They’re often classified as “distance learning” scholarships.
  • Tuition reimbursement is offered by some employers. If you meet their criteria, they’ll pay for part of your degree. This is usually extended to online students as well as traditional, campus-based ones, but check with your employer to make sure.

For online classes that aren’t part of a degree program, your best bet is to find free ones. Free online courses can teach you college-level subjects; they just don’t usually count for college credit. However, they can be useful if you want to brush up on an old skill or get a head start on a future degree.

Questions Related to Taking College Classes Online

Here some more information to help you decides if taking classes online is a good idea for you.

What College Classes Can I Take Online?

You can take a great number of college classes online. In fact, they’re more inclusive than ever. You can download textbooks, watch video lectures, and even chat with fellow students through web-based learning portals.

There are only a few things that you can’t do online:

  • Fieldwork: If your degree program requires clinic hours, teaching experience, or anything else that has to be done offline, you’ll need to figure out how the online program handles it. In most cases, you’ll be asked to satisfy these requirements locally and submit the evidence to your professors.
  • Lab work: Labs can be taken online through simulations and supplemented learning materials, but they don’t offer the same hands-on instruction as a real lab. If you’re going for a science degree with a lot of lab work, you might not want to take it online.
  • Physical work: Vocational trades aren’t usually offered online. The classes are too labor-intensive. You’ll also find limited options for things like dance, theater, and anything else involving a live audience.

If you’re interested in online classes, the best thing to do is poke around your school’s website and see what they have to offer. You can make decisions based on what is and isn’t available.

Which Are the Best Online Courses?

The best online courses are ones that mimic their real-world counterparts. They’ll teach you what you need to know to make you employable, and they won’t make you feel like you’re missing out on good teachers or interesting assignments.

Ask yourself the following questions before you sign up for an online class:

  • Is it taught by the same professor as the campus class?
  • Does it use the same textbooks?
  • Does it offer support for online students? Is there a special e-campus or web-based learning platform?
  • How does it handle things like lab work and fieldwork?

You might also want to check out reviews of the program before you sign up. What do previous students have to say about it? Have they given it good ratings?

Are Online College Courses Free?

There are plenty of free online classes. Unfortunately, they don’t count for college credit.

They’re called massive open online courses (MOOCs). They’re real college classes that are available online, and many of them come from accredited universities. They have all of the lectures, quizzes, exams, and homework assignments that you’d expect.

The downside is that free MOOCs aren’t usually accepted by schools for college credit. You can take them to learn new things or develop new skills, but they can’t be applied to your degree.

Paid MOOCs are another story. Also known as “for-credit MOOCs,” these courses are usually designed as part of a degree program, and they might even be identical to the online courses that are offered by the school itself.

They’re just available to anyone that can pay. If that someone happens to be a college student, they can get credit for it.

Are There Any Free Online College Courses for Credit?

There are a few free classes that can be counted as college credits. Class Central has a list, and they include subjects in every discipline:

  • Law
  • Business
  • Computer Science and Technology
  • Humanities
  • Engineering
  • Health and Medicine

However, most of these MOOCs are only accepted at certain schools under certain conditions. A large number are also meant for graduate degrees and not associate or bachelor’s degrees.

How Much Does It Cost to Take an Online College Course?

Online courses are usually about half of the cost of campus classes. It’s hard to pin down an exact average since their prices vary. Just like regular classes, their tuition depends on the school, the class, the financial aid package, and the residency status of the student.

Most of the time, you’ll save money with online classes. You’ll be able to avoid a lot of the “student fees” that get tacked onto tuition, and you won’t be paying for food, housing, or parking.

On the other hand, some online classes charge “technology fees” that aren’t required by campus classes. This is to support their websites and web-based learning portals. You might also need to pay for special online resources.

Why Take Classes Online?

Why Take Classes Online

There are a lot of benefits to taking online classes, especially if you’re a student with other responsibilities beyond school.

The biggest one is convenience. With online classes, you can study when and where you want, and you won’t have to dash to campus every day while also juggling work, family, church, and social obligations. You can arrange flexible online classes to fit your schedule and not the other way around.

Another nice thing about online classes is that they’re more affordable than traditional classes. You can save money while earning your degree and preparing for your future career.

Online classes aren’t for everyone. However, if you think that you could thrive in an online learning environment, they’re definitely worth a second look. Choose the right online degree program, and you could be on your way to a high-paying, long-lasting career in no time.

Joy Cromwelle
WRITTEN BY
Joy Cromwelle
Joy is pursuing her Ph.D. in Public Policy & Foreign Policy and holds a Master of Business Administration in Strategic Management, as well as a Bachelor's in Business Administration. Joy's focus is helping non-traditional students find accelerated degree options and credit for prior learning opportunities.