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7 Online Educational Opportunities This Summer If You Can’t Take an In-Person Course

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Most high school students are used to seeing the summer as a break from school. If that’s the model to which you’ve become accustomed, taking academic courses over the summer may seem antithetical to the purpose of summer break itself. However, there are definite benefits to making academic coursework part of your summer schedule.


Not only are summer courses attractive to colleges, they’re also good for your intellectual development. With more options than ever available online, it’s becoming easier and easier to find summer classes that fit your schedule and budget, regardless of your location, interests, and college aspirations.


Read on for more information about the advantages of taking a summer course, where to find course offerings online, and how to pick the online summer course that will work best for you.


Why should I take a summer course, in person or online?


Taking summer courses at institutions outside of your usual school system means exposing yourself to academic options that are far more varied than what your high school is able to offer during the year, and possibly more advanced. One of these options might turn out to be an especially good fit for your interests, or even inspire your plans for your college major or career.


Whether or not you’re taking summer courses as part of a more cohesive program, like a residential program at a college, you won’t have to juggle six or seven different classes, as you might during the school year. Instead, you’ll typically be able to focus on only a few more intensive courses and reap the reward of giving those topics your undivided (or less-divided) attention.


When it comes to planning for college, summer courses can be a worthwhile addition to your resume. Competitive colleges want to know that you’ve made good use of your summer breaks, and taking academic courses during these breaks shows a commitment to your intellectual development as well as a willingness to think outside the box when seeking academic opportunities.


However, you may encounter practical obstacles in finding a summer class that works for you. Your options will depend upon where you live, or where you’re able and willing to travel. Summer programs can also be costly, especially if you have to factor in travel, room and board, and similar expenses. (Check out our post Affordable Academic Summer Programs for High School Students for some suggestions on finding summer programs that work for your budget.) 


Fortunately, in the present day, there’s another option to consider: online coursework. While taking classes online isn’t quite the same experience as doing so in person, this approach can have significant practical benefits, including flexibility in scheduling, accessibility from any location with Internet access, variety of classes to choose from, and greater affordability.


If you want to take courses over the summer and reap the attendant benefits, but you’re concerned that an in-person course won’t be practically feasible, online courses may be exactly what you need to build a productive summer schedule that works for you.


Online options for summer courses


It’s clear that taking a course online during the summer can be an ideal solution for students who want to take on additional academic challenges, but need more flexibility than traditional programs can provide. Many providers of online courses exist, but they aren’t all the same. It’s important for you to pick the right course, and that starts with finding the right platform or provider. Here are a few notable online course providers for you to explore.



Lynda.com is a website owned by LinkedIn that offers online courses focused on helping you to develop specific skills. Its courses generally fall within the categories of business, technology, and related creative skills, such as design and photography. Currently, the platform offers almost 6,000 different courses.

Courses offered by Lynda.com primarily consist of videos in which an instructor demonstrates and narrates how to perform a specific action, such as using a piece of software to complete a task. These video tutorials vary greatly in length; a simple skill video might only last half an hour, while a more advanced and detailed tutorial might last twelve hours or more.

Instead of charging per course, Lynda.com works on a subscription model, with a monthly base charge of around $20 for access to an unlimited number of courses, including videos and quizzes to assess your progress. For an extra monthly charge, premium members can also download course videos to watch offline and access supplemental course materials with practice questions and examples.

The Open Education Consortium

The Open Education Consortium isn’t exactly a provider of online courses. Instead, it’s a nonprofit organization that maintains a network of online course providers while also promoting open educational access and collaboration.

Most of the courses in the Open Education Consortium’s network are Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, which are open to the public and designed to facilitate widespread access. Using the consortium’s search engine will often bring up courses offered by other organizations and programs on this list, so it’s a great place to start if you’re interested in a MOOC.


EdX is a platform for online college courses, many of which are developed and administered by top universities. These include Harvard and MIT, which jointly founded the platform in 2012. Some courses are grouped into certificate programs and other directed learning experiences. Currently, about 1,270 courses are available, and the platform has over 10 million users.

The courses you’ll find on edX vary in their academic level and in how they’re presented—for instance, some are self-directed, while others have a more rigid schedule. Course costs also vary, with some free classes available. However, you’ll be able not only to access information about courses before you sign up, but also to see reviews from past students.


Coursera is another platform for MOOCs developed by various organizations and institutions. Like edX, it’s supported by and draws courses from a number of major colleges and universities, including the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University (where the platform was founded), and the California Institute of Technology (Caltech).

Coursera offers over 2,000 different courses, and is used by over 24 million registered users. Its variety of courses and costs is similar to that of edX. In some cases, course materials are available to view for free, but a fee is required in order to receive an official certificate of completion.

Khan Academy

Khan Academy takes a slightly different approach from organizations like MOOC providers. Instead of hosting courses developed by specific universities, it’s a nonprofit organization that develops and offers its own course materials for students in kindergarten through high school. These include academic subjects as well as topics like standardized test prep.

Khan Academy course materials are free to use and also free of ads. They also include tools that parents, teachers, or tutors (or you yourself) can use to help evaluate and track your performance in a particular subject. The way that topics are broken down into individual sections makes these materials particularly appropriate for use as supplements to courses you’re taking elsewhere.

Saylor Academy

Like Khan Academy, Saylor Academy is a nonprofit organization that offers online coursework. However, they specialize in college-level courses, and offer over 100 different full-length classes in a range of subjects. Their mission is to make education “radically accessible,” and in keeping with this focus, their courses are available for free.

Saylor Academy’s courses are self-directed, so they’ll give you a lot of flexibility in choosing your schedule and pace. Some courses may allow you to earn college credit, though this may also involve additional costs. (Be aware that not every college you might eventually attend may accept these credits; each school has its own policies.)

Extension schools at individual colleges

Many colleges have branches known as extension schools, which offer academic classes for nontraditional students or students not enrolled a degree program. As online courses have become popular, extension schools have begun to offer online courses as well as their traditional in-person courses. These, of course, offer the advantage of not having to be physically present on campus.

Extension courses are administered by individual colleges, so their details vary from school to school. You’ll want to research programs of interest carefully to determine your options and ensure you meet any requirements, such as age limits or prerequisites.

Things to consider when choosing an online course


Before you sign up for any online course, during the summer or otherwise, make sure you fully understand what you’re undertaking by considering the following questions.


  • Topic. What is the course generally about, and what specific topics does it cover? Is the topic something that interests you and that you’re motivated to learn about?
  • Instructor. Who’s teaching the course, and what do you know about that person? Do you have particularly positive or negative feelings about their approach to the topic?
  • Academic level. For what level of student is the course intended? Is it appropriate for your abilities and depth of understanding? Do you meet all the stated requirements?
  • Quality level. Is the program you’re considering well-regarded and recognizable to potential colleges and employers? Either way, how much does this matter to you?
  • Format. What does taking this class entail on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis? Will you be provided with video lectures, Powerpoint slides, message boards or class forums, reading materials, recurring assignments, or other course components?
  • Scheduling. Do you need to virtually join class “meetings” at a certain time, or can you view lectures or post in class forums at any time of day? Is there a set schedule with due dates for the whole summer, or can you take the course at your own pace?
  • Time commitment. How much time will you need to devote to this course each week and overall? How much reading or work will you need to complete each week? Will the course fit with your other summer activities?
  • Assignments. Does the course require you to complete assignments that someone will evaluate? What form do they take? Are there specific due dates?
  • Credit. Can you and will you get academic credit (high school and/or college) for your work? If so, is there a letter grade awarded or is the class pass/fail?
  • Cost. How much does it cost to take the course? What do you receive for your money? Is the cost worth it to you and/or to family members who might be paying?
  • Drop policies. If you find that you need to drop the class, what happens? Can you get a refund for course fees? What deadlines do you need to remember?


For more information


Taking academic courses, whether online or in person, isn’t the only way to have a productive summer that will look good on college applications. Here are a few posts from the CollegeVine blog that you might find useful when making your summer plans.



For even more information on summer options, including specialized guides for your intended career path, check out the CollegeVine blog’s Summer Activities category.


If you’re a college-bound high school student, you know well that choosing effective summer activities is only one small part of building a competitive college application. 


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Monikah Schuschu
Senior Blogger

Short Bio
Monikah Schuschu is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard University. As a graduate student, she took a job at the Harvard College Office of Financial Aid and Admissions, and discovered the satisfaction of helping students and parents with the often-baffling college admissions process. She also enjoys fiber art, murder mysteries, and amateur entomology.