Girl sitting at a computer upset.

Without the structure and guidance that comes with in-person education, it’s to make errors when going to school online. For example, registering for and starting online courses can be a challenge for some online college students.

By knowing how to avoid some common missteps, you can give yourself the best chance of success when going back to school online. 

In fall 2021, 4.4 million students, or 28 percent of all undergraduate students, took distance education courses exclusively, according to the National Center of Educational Statistics. With online education on the rise, it becomes imperative that you understand how to navigate this online learning format.

Identifying these mistakes early on can help you choose and engage in e-learning the right way. A little preparedness goes a long way to thrive academically in the digital space.

1: Not Researching Course Quality

Without hearing word-of-mouth opinions about certain courses as you might receive in person, it can be easy for you to enroll in online college without understanding what you’re signing up for. Some online courses are low-quality when it comes to the course structure, content, or teaching method, so you must do your research. 

One thing to look out for is if the course is properly accredited and if it is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation or U.S. Department of Education. If not accredited, the program’s validity is questionable.

Looking at the instructor’s credentials and teaching history, course reviews, and the school’s online program reputation before enrolling are more ways to check for the course’s validity. Doing so can help you understand what other students do and don’t like about the course you’re interested in and can help guide you in your decision.

2: Underestimating the Workload

Taking college classes online requires discipline, time management skills, engagement, and hard work. Without understanding the commitment required, you may fall behind.

Make sure you plan out your workload to ensure that you are not taking on too much. Using a digital calendar is a great way to stay organized and keep a detailed schedule of your tasks. Doing so may help you to not overwork yourself which can help you achieve your goals quicker.

A good resource to gauge your course’s workload is It has a database of college professors rated on the overall quality of their teaching and courses. The website also measures the percentage of students who would take that instructor’s course again and the course’s level of difficulty. 

3: Neglecting to Check Technology Requirements

Learning at home not only takes dedication and hard work, but it also requires some technology and tools. In order to be successful in the courses you want to take, you must know exactly what materials you need before you enroll. 

Before you enroll, it’s a good idea to confirm you have the necessary computer hardware, software, and internet access to ensure you can access your course materials and complete assignments. Other tools to be mindful of are a webcam and phone, depending on what your course requires.

If you lack the technology or tools to take college classes online, know that there may be accessible alternatives to these materials. For example, coffee shops and public spaces typically offer free internet access if you don’t have reliable internet at home or work.

If you don’t have reliable access to a computer, check with nonprofits like Computers with Causes that allow you to apply for free recycled laptops. Also, many universities such as California State University campuses allow students to borrow laptops from campus tech centers each semester. 

4: Enrolling Without Prerequisites

You may be tempted to skip ahead to an advanced-level course, however, it is important to understand that foundational knowledge is vital. When you skip courses, it leaves learning gaps that may yield confusion and poor grades later. 

Completing prerequisites ensures that you are well-prepared to advance and build upon the knowledge you have. When you have gaps in core concepts, it may result in struggles and prevent you from earning a quality education that you can use in the workforce. 

Remember that prerequisites are not a suggestion, they are a requirement. If you fail to check which prerequisites are required for the course, you may not be eligible to enroll. 

5: Paying For a Course That is Available For Free 

Some online course topics and materials may be available for free through open courseware programs. Make sure to research the course you are interested in and whether paying for a course is necessary or not. This will ensure you get the most value out of your education.

You can also check with your employer to see if they will cover the costs of you achieving your education. SDSU Global Campus is an Amazon Career Choice Partner and Amazon employees have free education opportunities for many of our degree programs.

For each online learning opportunity you take, doing your research can save you time, money, and stress. Being an online student is still a relatively new idea, and there are still bumps in the road that you may run into. However, by avoiding these five common mistakes and properly preparing for the courses you enroll in, you can earn a streamlined education online and on your own time.