By Niki Bridges
Enrollment in online courses seems to grow with each passing semester. After all, the convenience of completing classwork independent of location is a large draw for many students in this busy world.
But when it comes to international students and online courses, there are several restrictions to keep in mind. Students with F-1 visas are only allowed to take one online class per semester toward their minimum number of credits for that term. J-1 and M-1 students typically cannot take online courses, and F-1 and M-1 students cannot earn online degrees. Students who fall into other visa categories (i.e. H-4 or L2) are not subject to these restrictions.
If you are an international student who is interested in taking online classes from an American university, review your visa restrictions first. Then, consider these aspects of online education:
1. Online classes in the United States are frequently conducted in English
The typical online course consists of pre-recorded lectures, reading assignments, electronic quizzes and tests, message board discussions, and the like. English language learners will have little to no opportunity to exercise their speaking skills, and students who are not confident in their listening, reading, and writing abilities may quickly feel overwhelmed. Remember that your access to your classmates and professor will be less immediate (as will their answers to your questions), and consider whether that will hinder your English development.
2. Online classes sometimes take a hybrid form
A hybrid course is one in which the class is primarily online, but may meet once a week or so in a brick-and-mortar classroom. This style of course is very much like a strictly online setup, where you are expected to maintain your own schedule and to complete work by a given deadline. Meetings in the classroom may be focused on select readings or projects, or they may simply facilitate discussion about topics related to the course. While these types of classes are not too different from traditional online classes, it is important to note that hybrid courses do involve face-to-face classroom time.
3. Certain organizations may require additional information prior to enrollment
Registering for an online course is not as simple as filling out a short form and paying a fee. For instance, if you will be enrolling at a school that is not your home university, will you be eligible for financial aid? Will you need to provide your TOEFL results, and will the class be accepted by your primary school?
4. There may be other requirements within the class to consider
Your internship or work schedule (if applicable), extracurricular commitments, and familiarity with technology can all play a role in the successful completion of your course or degree program. You may have to respond to a question posed by an instructor several time zones away, or you may have your WiFi die during a testing session. Do you have contingency plans in place to handle small emergencies like these?
5. The online class is a very different experience than the in-person class
If you intend to earn an A in an online course, you will need to be highly self-motivated, as well as able to manage your time wisely. If you are a night person, you may be able to complete your classwork or view lectures in the late evening, but if sleep or personal time is important to you, you will have to find another, more effective arrangement. Most universities offer academic or technical support online, but they may not be available 24 hours a day. Will this work with your learning style?
Online courses are a great way to take advantage of accredited—and potentially unique—curriculum from competitive schools and distinguished organizations around the nation. Conduct careful research to ensure that the university you register with is fully accredited, that you can reasonably fulfill the requirements of the class, and that the course is well-suited to your academic goals. (If you are a current student at an American school, investigate their online options first, before considering other universities or companies.) Assessing the above aspects can help you get the most out of your educational experience.
Niki Bridges is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world's largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.