6 Things to Consider Before Taking Online Classes at Another Institution

Make sure taking online courses at another institution doesn’t become an administrative mess.

​Students who fall behind or want to accelerate in school may opt to enroll in online classes at another institution during the academic year, or over the winter and summer breaks. As a department chair and adviser, I have unfortunately seen students become tangled in an administrative mess by doing this.

Consider these following six tips before enrolling in an online class at another institution.

1. Get permission: Many institutions have policies that require students to seek permission to study “off-campus” prior to enrollment. These policies are usually in place to protect the student from taking a class they assume will satisfy a requirement but actually might not.

In many cases, it is the academic department chair of the home institution that can make the course equivalency determination. It is wise to ask in advance. Some institutions have a list of pre-established course equivalencies.

2. Check concurrent enrollment policies: If a student has full-time matriculated status, they should check their institution’s concurrent enrollment policy before enrolling in an online class at another institution. Due to federal data reporting standards, it gets confusing when a full-time matriculated student at one institution also becomes a part-time non-matriculated student at another institution.

Therefore, students usually must seek approval of an administrator prior to concurrently enrolling in another institution. Without prior approval, the home institution might not count the credits earned toward degree completion.


3. Investigate financial aid implications: If a student receives financial aid at his or her home institution, he or she is usually ineligible to receive financial aid from a second institution during concurrent enrollment.

This means that the student often must pay tuition out of pocket for the additional online course work. Typically, the only exception is if a student is enrolled in an established dual-enrollment program.

4. Pay attention to time management: Time management for students in online course work is always important. However, if a student is attending one institution while taking online courses at another institution, there is an even greater need to manage time effectively. Neither institution will likely be sympathetic to the plight of a student enrolled in multiple places.

[How to determine if an online program is accredited.]

5. Expect cultural and logistical differences: Even in an online environment, differences between institutions become apparent. Students will be subject to two different sets of policies, software platforms, catalogs, codes of conduct, grading systems, library access procedures, semester breaks and cultural norms. Students must work to plan for and embrace such differences.

6. State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements: SARA is a voluntary standards program designed to make it easier for students to take postsecondary online courses at institutions across its participating states, districts and territories.

If a student plans to enroll in a second institution located in a different state than where they reside, it is wise to visit the SARA website.

The takeaway: Students who wish to take online courses at a different institution than where they attend should do their homework in advance to ensure the time, effort, and money they spend provides them with maximum benefit.

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