Preparing Students for Future Online Degree Programs

As the world pushes past the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, many virtual or remote adaptations that were propelled by necessity will likely increase in utilization even as the world opens up again. Higher education and being able to pursue virtually every type of degree online now, is a sizable example of this phenomenon.

Obviously, online degrees were available before the pandemic began. However, lockdowns and other pandemic realities forced countless institutions and programs to make many more degree programs completely virtual. What had been conventionally considered a lesser option before the pandemic — completing a degree program online — quickly gained rapport and viability when it became the only option. And because of the improvements online degree programs underwent, they have now risen substantially in perceived value and robustness.

The schedule flexibility and geographic ubiquity that online degree programs offer over in-person programs will likely propel their engagement even higher in the future.

As a high school counselor working to prepare your students for college success, these realities will make a meaningful difference for an increasing number of your students. More and more of them will choose online degree programs in the coming years. Because of this, it’s important for you to think about how to adjust your work to prepare your high schoolers both for engaging in in-person and virtual degree programs.

By the Numbers: Engagement with Online Degree Programs

The stats are in: the global “e-learning” market is projected to increase by almost 100% between 2020 and 2026. In 2019, the number of undergraduate students in the United States that studied exclusively online was almost 15% of the total number of undergrad students studying that year.

And this doesn’t even include the much larger percentage that engaged in some of their classes online or participated in online/in-person hybrid degree programs.

The online student experience is here to stay. Because of this, it’s important to help today’s high school students prepare to thrive in online or partially online degree programs.

Equipping Your Students to Thrive in Online Learning Environments

To support stronger online learning aptitudes and help your students prepare for the possibility of online schooling during college, here are a few elements you can incorporate into your counseling and student engagement.

Determine Whether an Online Program is the Best Fit for Them

Though online programs are becoming more common and can suit the needs and lifestyles of a wide range of people, they aren’t for everyone. It’s important to help each of your students decide whether an online degree program is the right fit for them before they embark on one and find out the hard way. Some students need in-class interaction, enjoy in-person engagement with their peers or professors, or struggle to spend time engaging with material on a screen.

In addition, online coursework usually requires stronger time management skills and accountability to stay on top of assignments and lectures.

Talk to your students about these realities. Encourage them to try out an online class either at their high school or even through a local technical school or community college to see how it feels. It is hugely advantageous for any student to know before applying for undergraduate programs whether online coursework will work for him or her.

Help Them Prioritize Basic Physical Health and Wellness Needs

The nature of most in-person degree programs include a few elements that can help maintain physical and mental wellbeing almost automatically. Needing to walk or commute to and between classes, interact in person with classmates and teachers, and plan schedules around class times can intrinsically maintain physical activity, social outlets, and predictable life rhythms.

When engaging in an online degree, students often have to intentionally create time and space for healthy habits. Practicing the creation of regular weekly schedules or structures, committing to regular exercise or physical activity outlets, and attending social events or investing in friend groups can be ways your students can incorporate those healthy rhythms when they’re not naturally included via the rituals of in-person schooling.

Help Them Understand the Importance of Healthy Socialization and Relationships

As mentioned above, in-person programs often come with an element of built-in social opportunities and connections. Though online degree programs can go to great lengths to mimic and facilitate relational learning environments and social relationships, it is very difficult (or arguably impossible) to satisfy our needs for relational and social connections via remote or digital interactions.

Your students need to know that developing healthy in-person relationships is an important component of health and wellbeing. Encourage them to practice creating new friends. This can be especially important for juniors and seniors, whose focus is usually on completing their schooling requirements and spending time with friends they may have made freshman year or earlier.

This practice can prepare them for when they leave their familiar high school environment and, for many of them, need to create new relationships in different environments or sets of circumstances.

Help Them Develop and Practice Good Study Habits

Online programs almost always require from students’ certain elements of diligence, study, and organization that are not always as necessary during in-person programs. Because of this, it is vital to help any students you work with who are interested in pursuing an online degree practice their study skills and time management habits now so that they aren’t caught off-guard when they begin a virtual program.

Having fliers or exercises available in your office to explain study tips or organizational techniques can be a huge resource for all of your students, and particularly the ones that see themselves studying remotely in the future.

Helping your students prepare now for the differences they’ll experience in online degree programs can fundamentally change their experiences and rate of success once they reach undergraduate settings. These skills are important for every student as they graduate from high school, but particularly for those who plan to take on an online degree program. Incorporating these ideas now can help your students significantly down the road.