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How to Decide Whether Online Learning Is Really a Good Fit

This post is from a student, parent, or professional contributor. The opinions expressed by the author are their own and do not necessarily reflect the positions, viewpoints, or policies of Niche.

The COVID-19 vaccine is here, crushing the record for the fastest vaccine development ever. Did you know, according to The New York Times, that the second-fastest record for a vaccine—for mumps—happened over the course of four years?

Most vaccines have required more than a decade of research and experimentation. But the fast-tracked vaccine is officially here.

And while experts have been encouraging continued efforts to social distance and wear masks, it’s not to get a little excited-slash-relieved.

So what if you’re ready to go to college (or back to college) in the spring and the vaccine hasn’t made the rounds to everyone yet?

Unfortunately, it’s impossible to tell you exactly, “Here’s what you should do!”

So before you make a final decision, consider all the angles — and yes, it should also include the money factor.

1.  Take stock of your experience from this past semester.

How was your experience at your current college this past semester?

Did you:

  • Feel lost a lot of the time?
  • Have a really, really hard time with Calculus I? Maybe your professor’s explanations were so hard to follow because you couldn’t ask questions as easily as you could in person.
  • Think the semester was “meh?” Maybe you didn’t have a horrible experience, but you didn’t have a great experience in class. Maybe you couldn’t interact with your friends as much as you wanted to, or have a normal residential experience.
  • Think it was the greatest experience of your life? Maybe online learning is the way to go for you.

The best thing you can do is sit back and take stock of what your semester was like. Was it an experience you’d like to continue?

2. Learn about your options.

Next, find out what’s going on at your school. It’s really important to examine all your options.


  • Can you do online coursework?
  • Does your college offer only in-person options?
  • Can you take part in a hybrid option?

If your college is doing a terrible job of communicating what’s happening next semester, contact your college administrative center. You may also want to ask some questions about alternative options, addressed below.

3. Consider alternative options.

Think beyond taking classes in person or staying home and attending classes online. What more can you do? (Note: These alternatives may not include options on your current campus.)

  • Go back to campus and attend classes online—but live off campus. Did you live alone this semester? Maybe you need to grab an apartment with a roommate instead if you noticed you were super lonely. This option gives apartment dwellers the social aspect of living close to campus without exposing themselves to gobs of students — as long as your roommates comply with masks and social distance regulations.
  • Take the semester or the year off. Is it possible to defer enrollment or take a gap year without repercussions? Check the downsides and the upsides and all the rules with your college’s registrar’s office. You might want to work or do something else for a semester instead and go back after the vaccine is more prevalent.
  • Transfer to a community college. Will community college classes fulfill requirements toward your major at your original institution? Which classes will count as elective credits? You’d save way more money going to a community college than going to an expensive liberal arts college or university.
  • Go to a school closer to home. Will attending a college closer to home help you? Find out whether enrollment is still an option at a local college or university.


How to Successfully Navigate Online and Hybrid Lea

4. Ask yourself, “What do I need most?”

Moving to an online world means an absence of social support networks and a more isolated existence.

Is it more important for you to tap into social networks than to be lost in a web of online assignments? Are in-person classes more motivating for you because of your amazing professors?

Check out your mental health too. How are you doing after a semester of all online courses or a hybrid option?

You might need to make a complete change just based on your mental health. And of course, if you need to get connected to coping and adapting resources during COVID-19, get some professional help. You want to be able to cope with stress and stay healthy for the remainder of the time that it takes to give vaccines to everyone—whether you’re studying from home while social distancing or quarantined.

5.What is your personal financial situation?

What implications did the coronavirus have on your financial situation? The pandemic may have wreaked havoc on your parents’ financial situation—and what if they’re the ones paying for school?

Many colleges did implement tuition freezes or lower tuition and other incentives and you can also implement ways to lower the cost of college. However, that all might not offer enough value if you’ve experienced the impacts of the pandemic on your finances, such as unemployment and a hiring freeze.

Unfortunately, 40 percent of parents have used their child’s college fund to help cover expenses due to economic fallout from the pandemic, according to a survey by LendingTree.

And, you’ll have to weigh your experience based on the quality of the education you received and how much you paid. Will you get just as good of an education at a school that offers a hybrid model? Do you really need it for your mental health? (Again, what do you really need?)

Involve Your Family in the Decision

Talk to your family. The most important thing you need to do right now is to have lengthy conversations with everyone.

Also, try as hard as you can to make a decision that fits your situation (and in some situations, your family too), based on the facts that your college is offering—and not just based on emotion. (There’s no question there’s emotion involved in this decision, though!)

Author: Melissa Brock

Melissa Brock is the founder of College Money Tips and Money editor at Benzinga. She loves helping families navigate their finances and the college search process. Check out her essential timeline and checklist for the college search!