Online Courses: Boost or Bust?
After having taken two online Advanced Placement courses in one year and beginning my third next week, I feel well-acquainted with the processes of this system.
Eventually hoping to go to law school, my undergraduate studies will no doubt be filled with history, political science, social, and economic-focused classes. While Keystone Oaks does offer a good range of courses in these areas, I have, as of this year, taken all the history and English credits we have to offer, ranging from AP English, to AP US and European History, and finally AP Psychology. For me, that wasn’t enough. I wanted to begin early on my legal studies, and found myself trapped during my junior year with limited options for my schedule. I was not keen on the idea of choosing electives or courses in subject areas such as science which I knew would not help further my intellectual development in my area of interest. And so, I found a solution.
While they are becoming more popular, online classes were definitely more of an underground phenomenon to me as a rising junior. Unless you asked, their availability was not pronounced by guidance counselors, and so I learned of their existence through the grapevine. I had never taken a course online, and was entirely unsure of what to expect. Honestly, when I first began my AP US Government and Comparative Politics and AP Human Geography classes, I strongly considered dropping one of the courses, simply because each class used a different web program and one was significantly more difficult to navigate than the other.
All of the online courses I have taken or heard others have taken have been through the Northwestern Center for Talent Development, a department of Northwestern University. I’m going to be honest; these courses would probably be out of question for me if I didn’t have a GIEP courtesy of the school’s Gifted Program, as the school only refunds the cost of the courses for those in the program. Each year-long course is approximately $990.00, which can seem a bit steep. You must consider, however, that many students at our school engage in dual-enrollment programs at CCAC, for which a year of classes can reach around $800.00, not much cheaper than online AP courses once the cost of books is also factored in.
Though the cost may be slightly higher for these online courses, dual-enrollment programs actually have the potential to hurt one’s GPA, while AP courses are weighted a whole point more than regular classes, making them an attractive way to boost one’s grades. Further, the online programs offer the potential to fit a busy schedule, as the work can be completed at home, on breaks, or in any free time; there are never necessarily any set due-dates for work. This can be dangerous, however, as many students heap loads of online courses onto their plates believing they will eventually find the time to engage in them, putting the online work on the backburner in favor of in-school classes with next-day homework assignments. Suddenly, they find themselves with a week left to finish a year’s worth of work. For this reason, I cannot stress the importance of timing and pacing enough if you plan on taking a class online.
While I found it difficult to work on the classes in school, I treated them like regular courses, doing work every night, whether that work be reading, writing a paper, or completing a project. I told myself that I needed to finish a set amount of work per week, such as the completion of Chapter 1 or doing half of all the work in a unit. Online classes are definitely not an easy way out; in fact, they could be considered more challenging than those in school. Without a physical teacher there to answer your questions or explain challenging material, it is solely up to you to problem-solve. For me, reading was the most important part. All the material I needed to know was in my books, and so long as I could grasp the material, I was good to go.
If you do find yourself struggling, however, you are not entirely on your own. Each class does have a coordinator who you can email with any questions. When I needed more immediate help, I went to individuals and teachers in our school that had backgrounds in history, such as Mr. Sieg, Mr. Murphy, and Mr. Klein, all of whom were more than willing to offer any advice or knowledge they had. Should you take a science course, such as AP Environmental Science, you could always do the same, and seek out Mrs. Kreitzer or Mrs. Deemer for assistance. The same goes for other subjects.
Overall, I would consider my experience with online courses to be more of a boost than a bust. While they are confusing and, at times, tricky, with time comes experience. I must caution, however, against going into online programs should you be extremely active outside of school. Like I have said, it is difficult to work on the material in school, and most of my work was completed on weekends or weeknights. If you already have a full plate of work, you definitely do not want to jump into a class where you essentially have to self-teach all the material. Each assignment is more time consuming than it would be with an actual teacher, simply because you are the teacher. Tests for the classes I took ranged in time from one to three hours, and from 100 to 130 questions. The sections of the tests were timed to prevent cheating, and were notably more difficult than the tests we receive in school, where teachers guided us through reviews and offered nuggets of knowledge during evaluations. Because of this, while these courses can increase one’s transcript of academic excellence, they require an immense amount of dedication and discipline and are not for those prone to procrastination. The option of taking online classes does, however, give one the opportunity for a more flexible schedule, and offers a wealth of courses and materials not available in our school, allowing students to more deeply expand their understanding of their subjects of interest.