4 vital tips for using MOOCs for majors

MOOCing your major

Even people who knew what they wanted to major in since grade school can benefit from participating in free courses offered by MOOC providers like Coursera and edX. While the options for turning participation in a MOOC into actual college credit are still limited, successfully passing a Stanford or MIT MOOC in computer science or artificial intelligence could provide students the chance to dedicate precious college credit slots to more advanced electives. Additionally, studying the Iliad and the Odyssey through a Harvard MOOC can give a budding literature major the chance to explore themes and ideas they might encounter again and again in their reading.

As an added thought, college admissions officers warn students that declaring interest in a specific major on your college application invites closer scrutiny of performance in courses related to that discipline. But if mediocre math grades might downgrade admission chances for a student who declares his or her intention to study engineering, voluntary participation in MOOC engineering classes while in high school might demonstrate to admissions professionals a student’s readiness to go beyond what high school has to offer.

What to know before taking that MOOC

But before enrolling in a MOOC as a pre-flight for college, there are a few needs to keep in mind:

1.  Understand your goals for engaging in this type of independent course work. Do you just want a taste of what a discipline includes, or are you interested in accelerated learning in order to study at a more advanced level in college? Are you hoping to impress admissions officers with your zeal for learning and resourcefulness? Knowing in advance what you want to get out of a MOOC will help you reflect on what you are ready to put into one.

2.  Carefully review your course options. In some fields (like computer science), you might be spoiled for choice. But not all MOOCs demand the same level of rigor or deliver the same amount of learning. Are you ready to commit 12-15 hours per week to the problem sets for that advanced computer science MOOC? The class might look great on your college application, but you might not have the time or commitment to finish. If not, find a different class that better fits your level of interest and commitment.