by Sally Ganga, former admissions officer at the University of Chicago
In my day-to-day discussions with families, they regularly ask how to handle the educational disruptions forced by the COVID-19 pandemic and how colleges will view those disruptions. The conversation almost always turns to online schooling. Some students do not feel comfortable returning to in-person schooling in the fall even if it is available. Others want to supplement their in-person classes, and online coursework is the obvious option. But are there respected and legitimate online options? And how will colleges view online schooling?
The second question is easier to answer. Colleges are undergoing the pandemic just like everyone else, so they absolutely understand that online schooling is the right option for many students. Just be sure that you choose a reputable program.
Before you dive into finding one, you need to evaluate what your goal is in taking online courses. Do you need to earn high school credit or fulfill high school requirements with these courses? If so, your first step is to talk to your high school counselor or registrar. Classes taken outside of your high school will only be placed on your high school transcript or fulfill requirements if they meet certain criteria established by your school, the school district, or the state, so be sure to get approval before signing up and paying tuition. Some school districts have arrangements with particular online educational organizations, and those are a good place to start, as generally credit will be more easily given.
If your high school doesn’t have an agreement with an online program, some reputable online high schools include BYU Independent Study, Stanford Online High School, and the Laurel Springs School. There are many more, but those are just some that we at Bright Horizons College Coach® regularly saw in our admissions days. We’ve also more recently seen an increase in students using Scout, which is offered by the University of California. If you find another online education provider that looks good to you, just be sure it is properly accredited through a regional body such as WASC, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Most not-for-profit colleges (including community colleges) and universities in the US are accredited, but you can use the WASC directory of schools to check the status of any institution. Even if your high school chooses not to list your online courses on your internal transcript, you can and should send outside, additional transcripts to your prospective colleges.
An additional option is MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, which are often free. MIT offers MOOCs via its OpenCourseWare platform, and other colleges offer similar programs. You can also find MOOCs through companies like Coursera or edX. Generally, you will not receive credit for these but you may be able to earn a certificate to demonstrate that you have undertaken additional study in a particular area. Such courses will be viewed by the colleges more as an extra-curricular activity than something to go on your transcript. If you are able to arrange to get credit or a certificate, there will likely be fees or tuition required.
Whichever approach to online education you choose, do not to take on too much! Remember that online classes are real classes and if you don’t do well in them, they may impact your academic profile. Courses through your high school should always be your priority, so only take on additional courses if you can dedicate the necessary time and effort.