by Pedro J. Cordova Jr.

Online college students begin the first day of classes with many different levels of preparation. Some have a little college experience. Others begin right after high school, and still others pursue a college degree after many years in the workforce. Whatever your age or number of credits under your belt, follow these tips to get the most out of your online learning experience.


  1. Have a Reliable Internet Connection
    All online students must have a computer and reliable, fast Internet access. If your Internet connection is unreliable for any reason, then have a back-up plan. For example, many community libraries have free Internet and computers for their patrons. Having options will allow you to avoid connection issues.
  2. Use the Right Software
    Make sure your work is saved using the file format required by the instructor or college. For example, students at Rasmussen College must use Microsoft Word. It is surprising how many students lose points because they have not saved their work in the proper format. It’s also important to save your work often as you’re editing your document.
  3. Take Advantage of Resources
    Online education offers many advantages. The main one is flexibility. It allows you to earn your education at your own pace. Having said that, online college courses themselves have strict deadlines. To help meet those deadlines, students may have access to tutoring, office hours, live lectures, and other learning tools. Rasmussen College, for example, offers on-demand online tutoring and a 24-hour help line.
  4.  Follow Instructions
    For online classes, most of the instructions come in the form of announcements. These announcements are posted weekly or even daily and must be followed. Similarly, each assignment has instructions. If an assignment asks you to answer questions, then it would be appropriate to answer each question separately. Likewise, if an assignment demands writing a paragraph of no less than five lines, then you must write at least five lines. If you want to succeed, then following instructions is vital.
  5.  Ask Questions
    Assignments and projects may not always be clear. Don’t hesitate to ask questions. For example, a Rasmussen student can seek help from the instructor, success coordinators, deans of students, or the help desk. Asking questions is the smart thing to do.
  6. Create a Generic Title Page
    A title page contains the original title of your assignment, your name, the title of the class, and the due date. A title page is a part of most assignments so create a template you can use over and over. Even for a discussion board post, an original tile is appropriate.
  7.  Use the Correct Style
    Depending on the professor or instructor, college writing assignments require the use of specific writing styles. Indentations, spacing, and citations need to be done in a certain way. American Psychological Association style (APA) is often used for work in the sciences while the Modern Language Association style (MLA) is often used for work in languages and literature. Make sure you use the style required by the teacher.
  8.  Write as if No One Knew
    When you write a paper, never assume that the reader (the instructor for the most part) knows anything about the topic. That means you must write thoroughly, and explain, describe, or discuss the subject as if the reader doesn’t know anything about what they are reading. There are two important questions to ask after the first draft of your paper is completed: “Is the content clear?” and “Have I written everything I can write about the topic?” These two questions enable you to expand and edit your work in a logical and compelling way.
  9.  Create a Rough Draft
    A rough draft serves as the first version of your work. You should edit your work at least once prior to handing it in. Have a family member or classmate read the paper before turning it in. An extra set of eyes reviewing your paper helps catch errors.
  10. Run a Spell Check
    This may sound simple enough, but many students don’t run the spell check and risk being marked down. To make matters worse, many students write the way they text. This is unacceptable in college writing so use today’s spelling tools to avoid this common mistake.


If you follow these guidelines, you’ll be on your way to online academic success.


Dr. Pedro J. Cordova, Jr. received his Ph.D in Applied Linguistics from the University of Illinois, Urbana in 2000. He is in his third year as an Adjunct Instructor at Rasmussen College Online where he teaches success strategies and foundations of English to students seeking degrees varying from health care to business. He has been an instructor for 20 years at the college and high school levels. He resides in Chicago where he also teaches Spanish.


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