Let’s face it. Going to — and finishing — college isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work, research, reading, writing, presenting, and learning to complete a degree. For those adults who know they want to pursue a college education — whether it’s an undergraduate or graduate degree, or a graduate certificate — being able to take courses online is a big deal.
People often get excited about the convenience and timesaving features of online learning and try to take more courses at one time than they’re prepared to manage successfully. To help you navigate the size of your course load, take this quick quiz with some key questions to consider.
1. What kind of program are you enrolling in?A. Undergraduate
A. Most full-semester undergraduate courses are 3 credit hours. For each 3-credit course, you’ll need to plan about 8 hours per week for study and coursework. The amount of study time can change from week to week and by course.
B. Because graduate courses are more intensive than undergraduate courses, for each 3-credit course, you’ll need to plan about 12 hours per week for study and coursework. As with undergraduate courses, the amount of study can change from week to week and by course.
2. Is it a course that:
B. you are passionate about and have a lot of subject-matter knowledge?
A. If it’s a course you know you’ll struggle through, it’s going to take you a lot more time each week to study, learn, and do well. You’ll have to reach back to prior experience to determine exactly how much time you’ll need to add, so plan accordingly.
B. If it’s a course you’re passionate about, you’ll need to determine if you’ll be able to spend less time than average studying or if you’ll actually spend MORE time studying because you enjoy it.
3. How long are your course terms?
A. A traditional semester
4. How many hours do you work?
B. If you’re like most adults attending college online, you work, and you work full-time. This means at a minimum you’re committing 40 of your weekly waking hours to your job. This obviously doesn’t count commuting or anything else you do in a week. If you’re someone who’s typically awake for 17 hours a day, this leaves you 79 hours each week for commuting, meal prep, eating, family commitments, recreation, etc. How many of these hours can you realistically commit to routine study?
5. Do you travel for work?
A. If yes, be sure to anticipate your travel needs over the course of the semester and adjust accordingly. Some semesters may have more travel than others, and depending on how that impacts your study time, you may need to adjust your course load.
B. If no, you may still need to account for weekend trips and other commitments, like family get-togethers and celebrations that you don’t want to miss.
6. How long will it take you to finish this degree?
A. One year
B. More than one year
A. and B. Only you can determine how much of a course load you’ll be able to carry, repeatedly, every semester, for the length of time you’ll be enrolled in college. That initial excitement of taking additional courses so you finish quickly may not be realistic over the long term.
7. Are you receiving any scholarship or financial aid money?
Ultimately, the number of courses you take will depend on you. With so many things that impact available time for coursework, you can see there is no one right answer to how many courses you should take. But if you answer the questions above honestly and plan accordingly, you should come up with a schedule that works for you.The original version of this blog was published in April 2014. It has been updated.