Online College Tools

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In this day and age, pretty much everything you need to do involving your college career can be done online, from choosing a college to saying farewell to all your classmates when you graduate. You can even 'home school' by taking all your courses online! So warm up that Wi-Fi, because it's time to go surfing for smarts.

When it's time to pick a college, you can now learn what the college has to offer you without visiting. Just go to their Web site to find plenty of information about the staff, students, campus life, and more. This can even help you select a major if you are undecided. The academic section of a college Web site will give information about the degrees offered, and you can read all about course requirements for the degree and even read the course descriptions.

Your initial application process can begin online as well. On the admissions page of the college or colleges you are hoping to attend, you will find detailed instructions on the application process, and can fill out the form they supply, as well as fields to enter the text for college essays. It's best to print out and do a test run filling out the forms and write the essays offline (you can copy and paste the text into the online field later). Make sure everything is exactly as you want it to be before finally applying, because once you click that submit button, there's no retrieving it to make changes. You should make sure your computer has the latest version of Adobe Acrobat, which can open and read PDF files, the type most often used for downloading and filling out applications.

The internet has also made registering for classes each semester a breeze, rather than the old school ways, like phone or in person. Once your college has given you a student ID and set up an online account on your college's Web site, you can log on to walk through the online registration process as instructed. You can also revisit your account to add or drop classes later, and print out your schedule for your convenience. Tuition and any other fees can be paid online as well.

You can find the best prices on expensive textbooks for your classes online. For instance, on bookfinder.com, you can compare prices from multiple sellers and major online web stores, and choose from new or used books, simply by typing in the title and author of the book you need. It's also a great help in finding the kinds of rare, out-of-print titles some teachers still insist on adding to the syllabus even though they give you no help in finding these elusive books!

The online apps at mynoteIT.com and universitynotes.net, made specifically for students, are fantastic ways to keep your school work organized. You can share notes and assignments with all your classmates, and catch up on what you missed if you didn't attend class. You can post questions on the message boards for a variety of feedback from others. Most college's Web sites also offer message boards for such communications. Plus, electronic communications can save you the trouble of trying to track down a professor with whom you need to speak. Simply drop a line, either through e-mail or an IM if your professor is currently online.

Have to write a paper? There's more to the internet than just researching for it, which saves many a library trip as it is. The amazing tool at ottobib.com actually formats your books for a bibliography. All you have to do is type in the ISBN of the books to get the formatted returns for your works cited! Google has an excellent 'docs' app that is ideal if you are collaborating on a paper or assignment with someone else. It allows you to both write and edit the paper at once while communicating through IM, so you don't have to be in the same place at once to get your work done if you have conflicting schedules. Also, every school pays for an online scholarly search engine or two for you, as a student, to use. These search engines provide all the most current essays, statistics, etc. in every subject imaginable. Ask your librarian how to log on and use them.

IM is one of many effective ways to communicate with classmates as well as friends and family back home if you're going away to college and want immediate conversational gratification without picking up the phone. E-mail and other forms of electronic communication have replaced letter writing. In fact, you're better off e-mailing full letters to your parents than sending them cryptic text messages, because parents just aren't quite up on their texting shorthand and lingo! Networking on Facebook and Twitter are also great ways to keep in touch with, share pix with, and send private and public messages to new friends as well as longtime friends. Networking sites actually inform you of people you may know based on common information in your profiles, like the school you graduated from and the years you were there, as well as past places of employment.

Getting a college degree these days doesn't even necessarily mean going to college. More and more accredited colleges and universities are offering online courses that allow you to study from the comfort of your own home. Interactive technology allows you to interact with classmates and teachers around the world and work at times that are most convenient for you. Online college even gives you accelerated degree plans that can have you graduating in as little as 18 months!

The internet can definitely be a fun place to socialize, but just because you're a grown up now, that doesn't mean you are any less at risk from predators. It's very easy to meet a lot of people with common interests on message boards and in chat rooms, but if you decide you want to meet a new friend in person, plan to do it in a public place, and always bring a friend with you. You also have to be careful about giving out too much of your own personal information online-specifics like where you live, where you work, the school you attend, or the schedule of specific classes you take is way TMI to volunteer to anyone you've never met in person to consider a trusting friend.

Along with your own protection, you must make sure to protect your computer and all the personal information on it from hackers. Your computer should be set up with a password that only you know so no one can get onto it, and you should never leave it booted on unattended. But beyond that, it is imperative that you use some sort of software security package like Norton or McAfee, which offer firewall, anti-virus and pop-up blocker software to prevent outsiders from remotely tapping into the information on your computer. Also, beware of obscure Web sites, especially if they ask for personal information, like your credit card number, bank account info or mailing address. Try to stick to well established companies and Web sites (like bedbathandbeyond.com!) when making purchases or before you know it, you may end up with dozens of charges in states or countries you've never even been in.

E-mail is another way to fall victim to scams. If you get an e-mail solicitation that sounds too good to be true, whether it's telling you how to make money quick or about a great job opportunity, chances are it is some sort of spam scam to get personal information from you. You should definitely have an anti-spam program on your computer, which helps filter out scam e-mails so that they never even enter your inbox. And also be wary of special messages from your favorite Web sites telling you there has been some sort of change to your account or their Web site, and that you need to click on the included link to sign in and supply any kind of personal information. It is best to never click on these links, because even if you feel unsure of the legitimacy once you've signed on through the link, you've already given up a username and/or password. If, for instance, you get a notice from Facebook telling you someone has just written on your wall, or a PayPal e-mail stating that your account is in danger of being cancelled unless you supply new credit card information, do not click on the link in the e-mail. Simply go to the internet, type in the Web site's url and sign in to your account to see if what the e-mail is claiming is really true. It's a simple safeguard, because even the most genuine looking e-mails that have all the common design elements and text of your favorite Web sites can be incredibly detailed fakes.

College and computers were meant for each other. But humans are still smarter! Following the suggestions above and making well-informed decisions when it comes to using all the tools the internet has to offer will make getting an education a safe and satisfying experience.