Tuesday Tip: Building a Support Network in College

Whether you’re planning to attend college in a new town, go to community college or take credit-by-exam tests like CLEP, surrounding yourself with a group of mentors can help you achieve your goals and guide you during college.

For more information about how to create this network, see Chapter 8: Where to Go for Help in College Without the Campus.

You can find more Tuesday Tip videos about lifelong learning and the millennial life on YouTube here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCUu4KrpBnEg3dDTwhYwXBfw

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

College Without the Campus FAQ #7

FAQ #7

Q: What about financial aid for distance learners?

A: Student financial aid is available through three sources: from the government at both the federal and state levels, from colleges and universities directly, and from private parties. The main criterion for a distance learner to receive financial aid is if the student is enrolled. This is understandable, since it is easier to ensure that the aid is used as intended if a student is enrolled.

For aid from the federal government, students are required to be enrolled at an accredited institution.[1] Thus, once a student enrolls, she will be eligible for funding regardless of whether she attends on campus or off campus. The same is true for aid from state governments, from colleges and universities directly, and from most—if not all—private organizations. Once the students enroll, they are eligible for aid. The good news for unenrolled, off-campus students is that the reasonable fees of non-traditional learning can preclude the need for financial aid.

[1] an accredited institution. http://www2.ed.gov/admins/finaid/accred/accreditation_pg9.html.

Black mortarboard from College Without the Campus

Walla Walla Sunset

The difference between online classes and credit-by-exam tests

Me: “Hi, I’m Hillary.”
New friend: “Nice to meet you. Are you going to school here?”
Me: “No, I graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey. But I used distance learning so I could live here in Walla Walla.”
NF: “Cool—so you took online classes?”
Me: “Actually, I used credit-by-exam tests. I studied on my own and then took a test for college credit.”
NF: “Oh, I see.”

In some conversations, I go into more detail, but often I feel that credit-by-exam tests are shortchanged in my meet-and-greet banter. Even if the person I’m talking to doesn’t have experience with CLEP or other similar tests, they seem to have a rough idea of what credit-by-exam tests are, but they aren’t exactly sure what’s different from online courses.

I totally understand. Distance learning is a broad term, and it’s been used over the years to refer to many things: correspondence courses where you snail mailed your assignments back to the teacher, pre-recorded videos of lectures, and, more recently, online courses.

These online courses have dramatically changed our education landscape and become nearly ubiquitous here in the US. In a 2012 survey of 2,820 colleges, 86.5% offered online courses.[1] Probably because of this widespread availability, online classes are the poster child for distance learning.

However, there is one key difference between online classes and credit-by-exam tests: one is professor led and the other is self-directed. For online courses, you have someone who will outline assignments and be available for questions. For credit-by-exam tests, you create your own schedule and seek out mentors or resources.

In online classes, you don’t have to worry as much about getting stuck on a problem or concept that you can’t understand. Also, you will be given deadlines.

In preparing for credit-by-exam tests, you may be challenged at times in learning the required material. (I highly recommend YouTube and forums for helpful explanations.) You will have flexibility in the time frame for test preparation.

So, the difference between online classes and credit-by-exam tests is who is the leader. Neither one of these types of distance learning is a quintessential solution to learning. But, fortunately for us students, neither is exclusive: you can take an online course while studying for a credit-by-exam test. The credit earned via distance learning can be a big step toward achieving a goal, whether that is a degree, expanded knowledge for work, or personal enrichment.

[1] I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman, “Changing Course: Ten Years of Tracking Online Education in the United States,” Babson Survey Research Group (2013), pp. 20, 32 and 37: http://onlinelearningsurvey.com/reports/changingcourse.pdf.