September 21, 2022

What to Know About Online College as an International Student – Forbes Advisor

Editorial Note: We earn a commission on partner links on Forbes Advisor. Commissions do not affect the opinions or ratings of our editors.

International students can enroll in US programs online to expand their education options, save money, and add flexibility to their learning. However, learners from other countries who wish to study in the United States must meet strict requirements, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Online education for international students can provide significant benefits to international students. This guide explores online programs for international students, including information on visas, credit requirements, online program benefits, and tuition fees.

What to Consider When Finding an Online College

International students considering an online university have many options, so the process can seem overwhelming. When researching potential schools, be sure to ask yourself the following questions.

Do they offer online programs for international students?

If you find an American school that offers online learning, make sure they offer programs for international students. For example, international learners cannot enroll in US-based 100% online programs, but they are allowed to enroll in blended courses.

Prior to COVID-19, international students could only enroll in one online course per semester. However, as of March 2020, the US government relaxed this restriction, allowing international enrollees to participate in blended learning.

Can you do 100% online work, or is it hybrid?

International students cannot complete fully online programs at US institutions. They can, however, enroll in hybrid programs, which combine online and in-person learning. Registrants have several options for taking hybrid programs, including taking courses with local partner institutions.

How much is tuition for international students?

Tuition fees vary depending on whether the school is public or private and whether the student is pursuing undergraduate or graduate studies. US schools may allow international learners to pay in-state tuition, which generally costs less than out-of-state tuition.

On average, international undergraduate students pay annual tuition fees of $25,000 to $35,000 at private schools and $30,000 to $45,000 or more at private institutions. At the undergraduate and postgraduate levels, enrollees pay an average of $20,000 to $35,000 annually in public institutions and $35,000 to $50,000 in private schools.

Is the online program accredited?

Accreditation is a process by which schools undergo voluntary and rigorous review by third-party organizations to ensure certain quality standards. Online programs are not accredited specifically for their distance learning offerings, but their host schools may hold accreditation at the institutional and programmatic levels.

Institutional accreditation is essential to the reputation of any school. Transferring credits and even finding a job can be difficult if you graduated from an unaccredited college or university.

Specific programs may also obtain accreditation. For example, organizations like the Commission on Collegiate Nursing and the Accrediting Commission for Nursing Education accredit nursing departments in schools. Business schools may be recognized by the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs.

International students should always research and confirm the accreditation status of their prospective schools and programs. By confirming that the desired institution and program meets quality standards, enrollees can have peace of mind knowing that they are making a worthwhile investment in their education.

What support does the school offer international students?

International students can start exploring available resources by contacting the schools’ international student offices. These departments can get the ball rolling by helping with visas, financial aid, and immigration matters.

Some colleges offer English language centers for students looking for additional support. International learners may need to take the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL) to be admitted. Some institutions offer online TOEFL courses to help international candidates prepare for the exam.

International students are not eligible for federal funding through the FAFSA, but colleges and universities can still use this form to determine if an international enrollee is eligible for state or school aid. Institutions may also offer scholarships specifically for international students. For this reason, international students must always complete the FAFSA.

Schools may also provide guidance or counseling specifically for international students.

Benefits of Online College for International Students

Online colleges in the USA offer several advantages for international learners. Read on to learn more about the positives of studying in the United States as an international student.

Variety of programs

By opening up their college search to schools with online learning options, international students can continue their studies at many other institutions. In addition to an expanded list of available learning options, these enrollees can engage with peers, instructors, and courses in cultures different from their own.

Affordable options

Online programs often charge lower tuition than their on-campus counterparts. Some schools and states allow international students to pay in-state residence fees, which helps enrollees save money. Although international learners cannot complete programs entirely online from their home country, they can still save on travel and accommodation costs during the online portions of their education.

Fewer trips

Traditional in-person schooling may require long commutes for on-campus travel or relocation. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, international students were only allowed to take one online course per term, which required more travel between countries and to campus. But in the spring of 2020, the US Student and Exchange Visitor Program (SEVP) updated its policy to allow international learners to take hybrid programs.

Online students can complete a significant portion of their education from home. Some American schools partner with international institutions, allowing enrollees to take online courses with local schools before completing their programs in America.

Frequently Asked Questions About Online College For International Students

Can international students study online from their home country?

Yes, but only for part of their schooling. International students cannot take 100% online programs based in America, but they can participate in a hybrid education, which mixes online and in-person instruction.

Do I need a visa if I study online?

Generally, yes, but there are some exceptions. An international learner with hybrid enrollment at an SEVP-approved school requires an F-1 or M-1 visa. Some schools allow international learners to start school from their home country before qualifying for F-1 visa status.

Can you get a student visa for an online course in the United States?

Yes, but international students cannot take 100% online programs in the United States. Some schools help international learners obtain their F-1 and M-1 visas to take online courses with US-based schools.