Drag out your stereotypes of college students—18- to 22-year-olds decked out in spirit wear, studying by day and partying by night, for instance—and forget them. Online students come from backgrounds so diverse that there is no one typical student, but some types of students are better equipped for online classes than others.


What materials do I need to excel?

  • Internet access: This is a given. To access an online class, you will need a computer with a Wi-Fi connection or a functioning Ethernet cable. Your internet service should be dependable. You don’t want it to malfunction halfway through a lesson or an exam. Similarly, your computer should have available memory and your software should be updated regularly. You may also need to use a printer, scanner, webcam, headphone set, or microphone. Check each of your syllabi to confirm the computer equipment you need for the course. Reach out to the professor or teaching assistant if you have questions.
  • Books and supplies: Just because you are taking a course online does not mean that you aren’t responsible for class materials. You may be required to purchase textbooks, software, or other supplies. Check the syllabus to avoid any surprises. Reach out to the professor if you have any questions.
  • Basic computer knowledge: Millennials generally don’t have to worry about this; they grew up in the age of computers, tablets, and cell phones. For everyone else, make sure that you feel comfortable with a computer before you commit to an online course. Do you have an email address and know how to check it? Can you type at least 30 words a minute to keep up with live class discussions? Check your speed by taking a typing test before you commit to the class. The most important thing is that you are fluent enough with computers that the medium won’t be a barrier during your class. Can you restart a program? Do you know how to connect to your printer? Your professor is there to help with the course content, not troubleshoot your devices.
  • A quiet space to work: You likely don’t have a classroom or college library at your disposal, but you’ll still need to study and listen to webinar materials. Do you have a place where you can work that’s free of distractions? You don’t necessarily need a fancy wraparound desk, dual computer screens, and a plush office chair, but you should find a space that you can dedicate to your schoolwork. If you don’t have any space to yourself to devote to your studies, will you actually be able to focus in a public library or a coffee shop? If you’re unsure, take a book to your potential study location and feel it out. Can you concentrate on the text over the background music and nearby conversations?

What traits do successful online students have?

  • Motivation: Especially if you decide to take an asynchronous class, you’ll have few to no deadlines. To really excel in an online class, you must be an independent learner who sets study goals. While the professor will check in with you, the only person who can make sure you do your work is yourself.
  • Discipline: Your online course offers you flexibility. As a result, there’s very little structure. You’ll have to design your own schedule and keep procrastination at bay. How is your focus? Do you get distracted easily? Can you give yourself a deadline? Do you wait until the last minute to do your work? If you can’t sit at a computer without checking your Instagram or Facebook, online learning isn’t right for you.
  • Resourcefulness: In online courses, professors aren’t always logged on at the same time you are. If you don’t understand a concept, you should definitely email your professor with questions, but you will also need to know how to do your own research.
  • Use of credible sources: Consult a classmate. Visit the nearby public library. It takes some energy to put yourself out there, but if you want to learn and do well in the course, you’ll have to make use of as many resources as you can.
  • Open-mindedness: You’re in class to learn. Keep an open mind, even if you’re skeptical about online assignments or teaching methods. It might take you a few weeks to get used to your online course, but you will enjoy it much more if you log on excited and ready to work.

How can I present myself as a good student in an online course?

  • Use proper grammar. It doesn’t matter how charismatic you are when you answer a question in a classroom because in an online class, the majority of your communications with your professor and fellow classmates will be in writing. Spell-check your work and write in complete sentences for all emails, posts, and essays.
  • Be professional. Even though you might be instant messaging with a professor, you should not use abbreviations or acronyms. Emailing “thx u 2” to your friend is fine; sending the same message to your professor is inappropriate. If you are ever unsure, it is better to err on the side of caution. Be professional, and follow your professor’s lead. If he or she does abbreviate some words to ease conversation, you might consider it. Otherwise, keep your tone as formal as possible. No emojis are necessary.
  • Make a good impression. You may never meet your professor in person, but you still want to make a good impression. Your professor will be assigning your grades after all, and you may need to ask him or her for a recommendation letter down the line. You want to make sure that your online persona reflects who you are. Show your curiosity, your compassion, and your work ethic.

How do I do well in my online classes?

Getting used to the online classroom can be a challenge, but if you are committed to your studies, you’ll find that it’s easy to learn anywhere. It’s a good idea to know what to expect before you get started so that you can do your very best in your online classes.

How do I choose the right program?

If you’re sure that an online degree is the best route for your education, it’s time to start comparing programs. It’s best to keep in mind issues of accreditation, finances, and program specifics. Compare multiple programs to find the best online degree program for you.

Page last updated: 02/2017