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Services & Support for Online College Students

For all students taking classes online, readily available resources can be key. Maybe it’s virtual tutoring via your school’s website, or, for online students in healthcare, a real-time walkthrough of certain lab software from a third-party site. Learn how you can get the most out of your education program by utilizing online student services and support.

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Author: Kathleen Curtis

Karen Watts

Karen Southall Watts has worked in adult education for 20 years. She currently teaches online at Bellingham Technical College and has taught in a variety of community settings. She is the author of several books including, Success in College: Strategies for New Grads and Non-Trads. Karen brings an eclectic background, including public speaking, counseling, coaching, and her own online student experience into her courses.

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With over five million college students in the U.S. turning to virtual courses, there has never been a better time to consider online learning. But with more and more students looking to online learning as a viable path, finding schools with adequate support is of paramount importance. Without the school support and services typically offered by a traditional college, online students are at risk for falling behind their on-campus counterparts. To help set yourself up for success as an online student, becoming familiar with the resources available from your school is a must. From discovering the resources at your disposal to understanding how to access and make the most out of them, keep reading to learn about student services and support for online students.

School-based Services for Online Students

Every school and department offers their own unique services to online students. As a healthcare student in an online program, it’s always a good idea to contact your department head or program administrator to learn about specific resources available to you. Below we highlight a few of the most standard school services to give you an idea of what to expect.

Academic Advising

Academic advising helps students plan out each semester and ensure they take the correct classes to fulfill degree requirements and graduate on time. In many cases, students are assigned an academic advisor their first semester and work with this person each term to pick classes and get expert advice on how to tailor their electives to meet career goals. For online students, academic advising typically takes place via videoconferencing. During your academic advising meeting is a great time to ask questions about classes for the next semester, create goals, review progress, and ensure you feel confident starting the new term.

Academic & Financial Counseling

This type of counseling helps students make smart, informed decisions about their finances while in school, particularly as they pertain to paying for their education. Financial counselors are on hand to help students understand the results of their annual FAFSA, review ongoing funding awards, and provide information on their outstanding bill for the year. Students who need help figuring out how to pay any remaining balance can set up a virtual meeting with their school’s financial counseling office to learn about their options and get advice on the best path for them.

Career Guidance

Many schools have an office of career services that provides support in a variety of areas. Current students may work with this office to locate a suitable internship site for fulfilling curricular requirements; they may also reach out if looking for a summer job, work-study position, or part-time option. As students near graduation, they can contact a career guidance professional to talk about job options, get help crafting their resume, and learn tips for acing the interview process. This office may also host virtual career fairs or networking events to help students meet professionals and hiring managers in their field of interest.

Healthcare Services

While online students may not be able to visit the physical healthcare services office to take advantage of campus-based services, they can still receive support from this resource. Working with healthcare services allows students to connect with medical professionals via telehealth while also receiving recommendations and referrals to doctors in their area. Many schools now also offer online mental health and counseling services to all students, regardless of location. If unsure whether your school has a similar program, you can check on the Office of Health Services’ website or reach out directly to a staff member.

Student Mentoring

Although a newer service than some of the others listed in this guide, student mentoring is becoming an increasingly popular support program for learners. Most of these mentorship programs pair learners with a professional in their future line of work. For instance, an occupational therapy student may receive mentorship from an occupational therapist already working in the field. These relationships are often invaluable to students. Mentors can help provide networking connections, internship placements, research opportunities, and exposure to life in the field. They can also answer any questions and help students feel confident about their path forward.

Tutoring & Writing Assistance

Tutoring and writing centers are becoming more and more popular as a way of ensuring degree seekers do not feel overwhelmed by their classes. Whether offering peer- or professor-based support, these offices help connect students who need a little extra help with someone who can work with them to better understand the subject in question. Writing tutors are also on hand to help learners develop theses, create outlines, improve their writing skills, avoid issues of plagiarism, and edit their papers to avoid costly mistakes or errors. Students should try to set up appointments early on to ensure tutors have enough time to adequately help them.

Disability Services

Disability service professionals work diligently to ensure all learners have equal access to course materials and support services, regardless of any disability. They help prospective and current students identify the support services that will best serve their needs. Common examples include accommodations, alternative assignments, priority registration, and sign language interpreting and/or captioning. Students may also receive approval for reduced course loads, recorded class lectures, or course substitutions if deemed appropriate. Students with disabilities should reach out to the Office of Disability Services early in their tenure as it is the learner’s responsibility to disclose any disabilities and seek assistance.


As more and more learners opt for distance education, library services for these students have steadily improved. These days, online degree seekers can access a wealth of digital materials, including research databases, academic journals, e-textbooks, and lending privileges at nearby university libraries. Students can also find helpful information on research and course guides, essay citation style guides, tutorials on research tips, and one-to-one meetings with librarians. Some schools now also provide digital materials such as films on demand, databases of recorded music, and other types of multimedia.

Technology Services

As any online student can attest, struggling with your technology while trying to complete assignments gets old quickly. Technology services professionals are on hand both to teach students how to use the various technologies employed by the school and help troubleshoot issues arising during their tenure. The department may also provide support in getting discounted software, accessing school email addresses, and providing details on required hardware for attending. Many colleges now offer 24/7 tech support to ensure students can get the help they need when they need it.

Study Abroad

Some students may decide they want to add a global learning component to their studies. Whether looking to assist with medical care in Ghana or learn more about infectious disease research in the Caribbean, study abroad opportunities come in all shapes and sizes. The Office of Study Abroad can help learners find out about different options, see which programs fit their budgetary needs, research funding awards, and decide how long they should plan on being abroad. They may also be able to expose students to study abroad opportunities they otherwise would not have known about.

Third-Party Resources for Online Students

The services and support offered by your school may be the best and most accessible, but sometimes, looking outside your standard source can help. Whether listening to a podcast from other online students, taking advantage of free online fitness classes, or finding a suite of apps that makes your life as a digital learner run more smoothly, plenty of free and paid services are out there to help make your time as a student go well. Below we look at some of the top options for 2020.

  • Chegg Internships This free resource provided by Chegg can help match you with a top healthcare internship you may not have heard about otherwise. You can use the customizable search engine to find the perfect position that matches your skills and interests.
  • Evernote Whether you need to organize your notes, create to-do lists, jot down details from your group project meeting, or collect digital research in one central location, Evernote can help. This app syncs with all your devices and can help streamline the parts of life that often get disorganized.
  • Free Yoga Classes If the stress of the semester is getting to you but you can’t make it to your local gym or don’t have funds to pay for a class, corepowerYoga can help. The group provides a range of free classes to help keep you moving in your house.
  • Grammarly If you waited too late to get help from your school’s writing center but still want to make sure you didn’t make any careless mistakes, Grammarly is a lifesaver. Offering both free and paid versions, you can decide how in-depth you want to go with editing.
  • GroupMe Anyone who has ever worked on a group project knows that it can sometimes be difficult to get everyone together and on the same page. GroupMe seeks to solve that problem by providing a simple, clean app that allows for multiple groups alongside resource and document sharing.
  • Internet Archive This non-profit web-service provides access to millions of books, software programs, apps, and other things by bringing together libraries from across the world and allowing users to browse and access their collections.
  • Libby by Overdrive This mobile app allows you to sign up for a library card and qualify for access to countless audiobooks, e-books, and other research and/or classroom materials you may need to quickly use without waiting for your school library.
  • Mathway If you find yourself struggling in your math classes, Mathway can help. This intuitive calendar not only helps you get the correct answer but also shows you the steps required to get that answer.
  • Online College Accreditation Guide Finding an accredited online healthcare program is one of the most important things you can do when looking at schools. This guide explains the different types of accreditation available and provides actionable tips on finding a reputable program.
  • Purdue OWL Although Purdue University manages this resource, it has supported untold numbers of colleges students for years. If you aren’t sure about formatting or style guidelines for citations, the OWL should be your first choice for finding answers.
  • The Pursuit Project This podcast is aimed toward students and provides concrete, actionable tips on maximizing available time, being more productive, and cultivating a lifelong learning mindset. It’s hosted by two friends and also includes regular interviews.
  • Rapid E-Learning This regularly updated blog features informative articles on online education for both professors and students looking to better understand this format and leverage it for maximized learning. It also provides helpful guides and resources on specific e-learning topics.
  • RateMyProfessor Long the friend of college students, RateMyProfessor is an invaluable resource for ensuring you don’t get stuck with a bad teacher. This is especially important for online students who may not get to interact with professors prior to signing up for a class. See what other students have to say and leave your own reviews at the end of the semester.
  • SelfControl Do you find it difficult to stay away from social media pages, games, or other distracting websites? If so, SelfControl can help. This app allows you to block certain websites for specific amounts of time or limit when you can visit them to help you stay focused.
  • StudyBlue If you learn and prepare for exams best by creating note cards, you will love StudyBlue. This app and desktop-based tool allows you to both create your own flashcards and search more than 400 million existing notes and study guides from other students. More than 15 million learners have used this service.
  • Study Guide Zone This free website offers endless valuable resources for students practicing for tests and exams. Whether about to sit the SAT, ACT, or MCAT, resources exist to help you feel more prepared. There are also subject guides for tests in specific areas, including healthcare.
  • TEDTalks If you feel like you need to dig into a topic further to understand it better, TEDTalks can probably help you. This website hosts thousands of videos from experts in every field imaginable sharing their wisdom in accessible ways.
  • Tomato Timer If you either forget to take study breaks or find yourself taking too many, Tomato Timer can help. This free app allows you to set study break schedules and customize the amount of time you take off – all for free.
  • Transitioning to Online School: A Guide for Healthcare Students Here you can find expert advice about what it looks like to move into online schooling, particularly if you previously attended a campus-based program. You can also find tech tips, time management hacks, and self-care essentials.
  • Understanding Clinicals and Fieldwork in Online Healthcare Programs If you’re wondering how these often-required components work when you’re enrolled in distance learning, this resource helps explain the ins and outs of it and answers any questions you may have.

Expert Q&A


Karen Southall Watts has worked in adult education for 20 years. She currently teaches online at Bellingham Technical College and has taught in a variety of community settings. She is the author of several books including, Success in College: Strategies for New Grads and Non-Trads. Karen brings an eclectic background, including public speaking, counseling, coaching, and her own online student experience into her courses.

1. How can new online students best familiarize themselves with all the services available to them?

There are two places to start: the college or university website and the introduction materials within each course. Even before a class begins, students should spend some time poking around the main school website. Remember, you can’t break it from the keyboard, so explore. It’s best to do this before a problem arises. Then once you get logged in to your new classes go to the materials your instructor has organized and curated for you at the beginning.

Of course, there will be some differences between individuals, but most instructors do a good job of listing the essential people, departments, and links to get you started. I have a huge page of on and off-campus support resources in my class. If you don’t see this material, ask for it. This will either prompt the instructor to direct you to the correct spot in the course or encourage them to gather and post this essential information.

2. If a student isn’t sure which office may best serve their needs, who should they go to for support?

If a student has an assigned adviser or coach, that’s the place to begin. These people usually have a broad, school-wide understanding of who does what and where to find the right help. If you don’t know who your adviser is (a very common situation) then contact Registration or the Dean of the department for your program.

If none of these pan out—unlikely, but it could happen—then talk to your instructor, the counseling department, or student services. Not all schools have exactly the same departments or names for services, so trial and error calls and emails could happen. It’s normal, so try not to stress about it.

3. In your experience, what’s the biggest mistake online students make in regard to support services offered?

I have been teaching (in classes, in workshops, and online) for 20 years. In my experience, the biggest mistake is that students wait until a problem is huge and they are almost defeated before even mentioning that they need support of some type. They will suffer in silence for days or weeks, and sometimes until I prompt from my side before seeking any type of support. This means they may not be able to salvage a class/grade or that they have suffered and worried for a long time over something resolvable.

I send periodic emails to my entire class to check on the “how are you doing?” dynamic. It is not unusual for a student to answer one of these check-ins with information about a serious problem they just weren’t going to mention. I also include communication about success and coping (based on who is in any given group) in all my classes and offer bonus points on assignments for self-care work.

4. If you could tell these learners one thing about taking advantage of school-based services, what would it be?

Everyone needs support to be successful and these services are free and built with a knowledge of what you are dealing with as a student. School-based advisers, counselors, coaches, eLearning support staff, and accessibilities staff, already know and understand much of what you’d have to explain to outsiders about your learning experiences.