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Thanks to Online Classes, I Graduated College on Time!

opinion

Setbacks to graduating in a timely fashion—whether the goal is a high school diploma or a college degree—range from illness to irrelevant course offerings. One successful graduate tells how she used online classes to sprint past the hurdles and make it to the finish line in record time.

I Stayed on Track with Online Classes

It wasn't looking good. More than three-quarters into a Bachelor of Arts program at a local college and I was stalled. I was frozen out of a second semester of biology, which would not be offered again for another two terms, a full term after I was hoping to graduate. Despite so-called priority registration, I would have to delay graduation, and with it, the next phase of my life—the one with higher pay, reasonable hours, and employee-sponsored health coverage. It wasn't the first time I'd had to rearrange my life around school, but I vowed it would be the last.

I knew my college offered some online options, but the offerings that term didn't line up with my needs. After doing a little research, I found an online class in biology from a distance learning resource that met my credit requirements and would apply to my college transcript. The experience was so rewarding that I took two more courses online—an art history class and an anthropology class—and arrived at my target graduation date with time to spare.

Brick wall online courses

Late Start or Jump Start for High Schoolers

A friend's daughter suffered an extended illness in her sophomore year of high school, and as she regained her health, her GPA struggled to recover. The bright young woman had missed some classes entirely, while performing below her usual standards in others. The most upsetting aspect for her was the distinct possibility that she would be unable to graduate with her peers. The answer lay in a hybrid schedule that involved going to her brick-and-mortar high school for some classes and for extracurriculars like track and band practice, and then supplementing with distance learning.

She was able to take the online classes when her energy and attention were at their peak, and she could also fully participate in activities with her fellow students—without being wiped out. By the end of senior year, my friend's daughter was fully caught up. She was thrilled and proud to walk with her friends and collect her diploma on time. To top it off, she had successfully earned college credits for two English composition classes. By the time she and her friends were cutting into their graduation cake, she was ahead of the game.

Catching up from an absence due to illness is just one scenario for K-12 students looking to benefit from online classes. Moving from one place to another during the school year can disrupt learning and put a kid out of his rhythm. Different learning styles don't always adapt effortlessly to what can often be a narrow road in K-12 curricula. For high schoolers who get off on the wrong foot early and fall behind, or for kids who benefit from a more flexible schedule, online classes can help young students take control of their own progress.

Student with computer and books

Some students are looking for a more accelerated experiences, and for them, distance learning offers a world of options. In my own experience, once I discovered the vastness of online education options, I was like a kid in a candy shop. Students can take more advanced classes than might be available at their school, or like my friend's daughter, get a leg up on college credits. With some of the basics out of the way, they'll have more money and time to dive into what really excites them.

A great lament of my fellow parents is that their kids are overwhelmed with a full academic schedule, in addition to extracurricular activities, part-time jobs, and a social life. My own child released some of the pressure by swapping out an on-site health class for an online offering. It gave her more control over her time and ably met the core requirement. Of course, these are problems of abundance. Online classes prove an effective supplement, as well, to students in rural or underserved schools that lack the resources of some other, more endowed environments.

Time Is Money

Well, time isn't always money—sometimes it's just time, as precious or moreso. In my case, however, the prospect of waiting another term or two to graduate and get my bachelor's degree translated to loss of income. I had no desire to take ''filler'' classes while I waited until what I needed rotated back into the course schedule. I was ready to interview for positions that I would qualify for only after I received my degree.

And I had no extra cash for place-holder classes. That online biology class, and the others I eventually enrolled in, saved me both precious time and cold hard cash, sometimes in ways I had not anticipated. I used less gas by limiting my commuting hours. And I made coffee at home instead of buying my pre-class latte. While I missed that little luxury, over the course of ten weeks, those four bucks added up pretty significantly.

Man after graduating

Credit on My Terms

There's no question that, in my situation, I was after some immediate gratification: I wanted the necessary credits, and I wanted them right then. I got that with my online biology class. What I also got was an enriching educational experience that challenged me, adapted to my schedule, and offered an unprecedented level of targeted instructor feedback. In truth, the reputably ''hard'' science classes intimidated me somewhat. But as long as I stayed engaged, I found I could set the pace for my online class. Help was available at every point, either through my fellow distance learners, or from a dedicated instructor. It was a great class.

There's Always Time for Learning

Online classes were elemental to helping me reach my goal of getting a bachelor's degree in a timely fashion. As I think about the possibility of post-graduate work, or even a few subject-specific courses to boost my resume, I won't hesitate to consider online learning to continue my education. I know I will be able to find the programs most relevant to me and complete them without the distraction of inflexible course offerings, inconvenient class times, a long commute, or limited parking. And it must be said, I do love the image of victoriously sprinting across a finish line in my pajamas.

By Irene Cooper
January 2017
opinion online classes

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