Understanding the potential for Online Courses
With monsoons come midterms and exams. But we would like to use the last bit of the monsoons to touch on another subject – MOOCs.
Over the last five years, web-based classes—especially massive open online courses (MOOCs)—have begun to change the way students gain knowledge. For a while they were the hot commodity with websites like Coursera and edX seeing thousands of new courses come up every week. People even wondered if they would replace traditional university education! While jury is still out on that, we have seen MOOCs become a valuable tool for students applying to college – whether in India or abroad!
Explore: MOOC’s have been a boon, allowing students to explore their interests beyond the curriculum. Looking at the rigid CBSE and ICSE curriculums in particular, the classes you attend in school rarely allow you to mix and match across interests or show that you can and will go above and beyond. Thus, online courses are extremely valuable because they allow you to show an array of interests and explore your major in greater detail.
Many students realize in high school that they want to go into the business world, but some schools don’t offer classes in entrepreneurship or marketing. This is a good chance for you to walk in with eyes wide open and try courses in a safe environment. Do you want to study Art History but don’t know what it is? Did you come from a strong science background but may want to switch to Economics without ever taking a class in that subject? Use MOOCs to explore.
Express: What then? How do you show the world? A few ways! Firstly, social media sites like LinkedIn recognize the value of MOOCs too and allow you to integrate and advertise those courses on your online profile. Applications to colleges abroad have sections allowing you to express your interest in a subject – whether through an essay about your chosen field or through the activity and additional information section. Brown even had an essay that said – “Please list the courses, including those you may have taken outside your secondary school, that relate to your chosen field.”
Pro Tip: Choose courses for which proof of completion is easy to share – whether it’s a certificate or a grade. Remember that you will be sharing your accomplishments with an admissions department that will wish to verify your claims. It may cost money to get a certificate but that is well worth it!
Bringing it together: To show you an example we want to talk about a student who successfully used MOOCs to tip the admissions game in a favor. This particular student was extremely interested in Economics, having studied it at school. She was also a talented artist, who enjoyed reading about art and artists. She never thought of the field of Art History.
To stand out from the thousands of students applying for Economics, she wanted to highlight her interest in Art. We recognized that there was no way she could simply mention that interest without supporting it. There’s a big difference between a student who talks about how she’s really excited to advance her knowledge about a particular subject and one who has already started doing that.
Now she was an amateur artist already, taking classes and entering competitions. But she hadn’t been involved in any events that were connected with Art History. She also wanted to learn more about this field and to figure out if it was something she wanted to pursue more fully in college.
My student decided to decided to take classes on Coursera exploring the field. Later she dove into influences of Islamic Art on modern architecture. Halfway through the course, she was inspired to take a walking tour of New Delhi, taking photos of the influence she learned about on her own city. She read about the research the universities were doing in the fields as well, even volunteering at a museum to learn more and gain valuable work experience. She still continuing to take pictures of her city. On one occasion she even ran into a group of students from one of her dream universities at Humayun’s Tomb, studying the architecture there over their summer vacation.
So the Coursera course wound up helping her accomplish a great deal. She…
– Explored her budding interest in Art History
– Used the course to engage with the subject and with the colleges
– Wrote about those engagements and expressed the way she had built on her interest
Now at Brown, she is studying both Art History AND Economics. She was able to stand out in her supplemental application essays, interviews and overall application and explore something of interest to her.
So, in conclusion, should you take a MOOC? If you’ve got the time, it’s a great thing! They are a great way for students to expand their knowledge and skills beyond what is possible in their school classrooms. And more than that, they are incredibly useful tools to illustrate intellectual vitality and strengthen your application.