How Does Online College Work? Top Questions Answered

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By CCU Staff

The online learning industry is projected to pass $370 billion by 2026. Why? Because students of all ages are learning that they can maximize their time by learning online.

Online college allows students to get their degrees on a flexible schedule. Programs vary depending on what school you choose, but there's an option out there for everyone. 

Are you fresh out of high school? A working parent? A full-time employee looking to expand your horizons?

Regardless of your situation, you need to learn how online college works before you dive into the application process. We're here to help.

Read on for a full guide on the top questions surrounding online college. 

Is There a Stigma around Online Learning?

There is certainly an idea out there that online degrees are less legitimate than in-person degrees. But this opinion is based on a lack of knowledge about how online classes function.

In reality, online degrees are just as legitimate as the more traditional option. The past year or so has had a hand in demonstrating just how feasible online college actually is. There's nothing like a pandemic to unveil your viable options.

Now, of course, there are situations where an online degree isn't as good as an in-person one. However, this has more to do with the college you choose than the concept of an online degree in and of itself. 

You want to make sure that you get an online degree from a reputable college. How can you achieve this? Do your research. 

The stigma that surrounds online learning surfaces as a result of bad programs. There are plenty of accessible online options that have wonderful programs with great student testimonies. Ultimately, online college benefits many students.

How Is an Online College Course Structured?

The way an online college course is structured depends on the professor teaching the course. Like with in-person classes, the professor tends to have a lot of leeway in terms of how they want to structure their course.

This means that your online courses won't really be that different from in-person courses. Your classes will still be catered to your professor's preferences as well as the curriculum they are required to follow. 

You'll encounter both synchronous and asynchronous courses. Here's a rundown of each:


Synchronous online college courses are ones where you'll meet with your class via a virtual classroom (Zoom, MS Teams, Google Meet, etc.). In this scenario, you'll experience the classroom setting as you would for an in-person class.

You'll still have assignments to complete, textbooks to read, papers to write, and exams to take depending on what type of class you're taking. But you'll interact with your professor and classmates verbally and visually at set times during the week.


Asynchronous online college courses do not have the virtual classroom feature. Rather, you complete assignments on your own time without these classroom meetings.

You may still have to watch recordings of your professor teaching the material, but you won't interact with your classmates or professor in real-time. Instead, you'll likely participate in group discussions whereby you respond to your peers in written posts. 

And it's still your professor's job to instruct you and give you feedback. You'll learn just as much as you would in a synchronous online course.

Do You Still Receive One-on-One Learning with Top Professors?

The short answer: Yes. Even in an online setting, every professor will offer office hours where you can ask questions, get feedback on an assignment, or even just chat. 

Some professors will create opportunities outside of their office hours to have one-on-one time with their students. This may come in the form of biweekly check-ins or mid-semester meetings. 

But again, you want to make sure that you research the college you plan on attending before you enroll. The caliber of feedback you get depends on how reputable the school is. 

What Technology Will You Need?

All you'll need to succeed with college online is a computer and access to the internet. Of course, there will be normal classroom materials like textbooks. But because your classes are online, most of your textbook materials will likely be online as well. 

Is Online Learning Cost-Effective?

When you choose an online school, you'll save money on some of the fees that generally come with learning on a college campus. This includes housing, meal plans, campus gym fees, parking, etc. While these seem like smaller fees compared to the actual tuition, they add up nonetheless. 

Online college costs in regard to tuition vary depending on the school. The key to finding a cost-effective online program is to research schools that make affordable college a priority.

Also, it's important to remember that scholarship opportunities don't go away just because you're choosing to attend college online. Apply to as many scholarships as you are eligible for.

Choose the Right Online College for You

So we've answered the question: How does online college work? If this article has helped you determine that online college is right for you, then the next step is picking the right online college.

California Coast University is an exclusively online school. We offer undergraduate and master's degrees and we're highly reputable in regard to our success rate for students after graduation. 

Also, we pride ourselves on the fact that we haven't raised our tuition rates since 2010. Take your first step towards an affordable and flexible education. Apply to CCU today!

This article was written for you by a member of the California Coast University staff. Do you have a question, comment or an idea for an article? Email: [email protected]

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