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Articles / Applying to College / Online Classes for Aspiring College Athlete?

Dec. 2, 2013

Online Classes for Aspiring College Athlete?

Question: If my high school daughter, decides midway through sophomore year she want to do online classes and is an athlete that is trying to get a scholarships from D1 or D2 school, how do online classes affect admissions?

With the proliferation of online classes, the NCAA has set up some guidelines to determine which online courses are acceptable and which are not. When choosing online classes for your daughter, make sure that the courses are NCAA-approved. Here are some guidelines from the NCAA:

1. Nontraditional Courses:


a. When considering an online, distance learning, correspondence or software-based credit recovery program, there are several things to keep in mind when determining whether such a course may be used for NCAA initial-eligibility purposes:

– NCAA rules require that core courses are academic, four-year college-preparatory courses. Courses taken through distance learning, online, or for credit recovery need to compare in length, content and rigor to courses taught in a traditional classroom.

– To be considered, core courses must require ongoing access between the instructor and student, as well as regular interaction for purposes of teaching, evaluating and providing assistance. This may include e-mails between the student and teacher, feedback on assignments, and the opportunity for the teacher to provide individual instruction to the student.

– To be considered, core courses must have a defined time period for completion. It should be clear whether the course is meant to be taken for an entire semester or during a more condensed time frame, such as six weeks.

-Nontraditional course titles should be listed on the high school transcript and should be clearly identified as such.

b. Software-Based Credit Recovery Courses. If a high school offers software-based credit recovery courses to enable students to receive credit or new grades for courses taken previously, the following conditions should be met:

– The school follows its credit recovery policies, whether the student is an athlete or

not. The NCAA Eligibility Center may request the policy if necessary.

-The credit recovery course must be comparable to the regular course. Just as the original course taken by the student should have been rigorous and college preparatory, the credit recovery course must be rigorous and college preparatory.

– The credit recovery course must meet the NCAA legislated definition of a core course.

– The credit recovery course titles should be clearly identified as such on the high school transcript.

2. How can a student find an appropriate program?

When researching nontraditional educational programs (e.g., credit recovery, online, correspondence or some other format), consider a school or program that:

– Offers courses that are four-year college preparatory. Courses should have significant rigor, and content and assessments that challenge the student to engage, to think and write critically, and to learn. Courses with content and concepts that are taught and mastered in primary or middle school do not fit this description.

– Requires regular and ongoing student/teacher interaction for purposes of teaching, evaluating and providing assistance. This may include e-mails between the student and teacher, feedback on assignments, and individual instruction provided by the teacher.

– Includes actual instruction, not just the student working on their own. There should be feedback, conversations and questions between the two parties.

– Has certified and qualified teachers.

– Uses a combination of assessments. This includes assignments, quizzes, papers, exams, required chats or virtual classroom participation.

– Requires students to complete the course in its entirety.

– Meets high school policy. School policy should clearly indicate whether such courses are accepted (and for whom), how they are placed on the transcript and how they are given credit. High school policy must be followed for all students.

– Uses security measures. There should be a means through which the school or program can verify the student's identify.

– Uses certified proctors. If the school or program uses proctors, there should be:

A process by which those proctors are selected;

A means to ensure proctors are qualified to perform their assigned duties; and clear policies on who should or should not be a proctor. For example, generally, a high school or college coach or athletics director should not serve as a proctor.

3. What types of nontraditional programs may not be accepted by the NCAA?

Not all nontraditional educational programs meet NCAA core-course requirements. When it comes to online, correspondence, credit recovery or other types of nontraditional courses, NCAA legislation may not be satisfied by schools or programs that:

-Do not have teacher-based instruction.

– Do not require regular and ongoing interaction between the student and the teacher.

-Do not have certified or qualified teachers.

– Only require students to do part of a class (e.g., the student only has to complete a portion of a course or is exempt from parts of a course if they pre-test out of certain sections).

– Are less rigorous. Courses should have the same rigor as a college-preparatory course and should contain the same content.

-Do not have security measures to verify student identity.

– Allow students to complete courses in a short period of time (e.g., two weeks for a full year course).

– Allow students to take numerous courses at the same time, especially courses in the same subject area, or that are sequential in nature (e.g., Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II at the same time).

-Have no formal assessments or limited assessments.

– Have no official student grade records (e.g., transcript, grade report, student-course activity information).

However, these guidelines assume that the student is still enrolled in a “real" high school and is not taking the online classes as part of home-school curriculum. If your daughter is, in fact, home-schooled, then there are more elaborate approvals required for her overall program. (Go to http://www.ncaa.org/wps/wcm/connect/public/NCAA/Eligibility/Becoming+Eligible/Resources/and then see “Related Links" on the right-hand menu.)

When it comes to actual college admissions (versus athletic eligibility), college officials may ask why a student took classes online rather than at her high school (if, indeed, she is still enrolled at the high school and is not being home-schooled). There are a variety of “good" answers to this question (e.g., conflict with training schedule for the most serious athletes, conflict with other required classes). The admissions impact of online classes will depend, at least to some degree, on how high up the selectivity scale your daughter is reaching. So she should be prepared to justify her online route, especially if more than one or two classes are taken online and especially if she is aiming for some of the pickiest institutions. At the Division I level there are some extremely selective colleges (e.g., Ivy League, Stanford) where online choices will get a lot of scrutiny in admission offices. Div II, on the other hand, doesn't really include any academic powerhouse institutions so the scrutiny is likely to be less severe.

If your daughter does intend to continue at her current high school and if you have not done so already, you should meet with her school counselor to discuss the high school's policies regarding online classes. As you'll see in the guidelines above, if the online course is not included on the school transcript, then it won't help your daughter to reach her athletic scholarship goals.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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