As the Internet becomes an increasingly integral part of teaching and learning, students are choosing to enroll in online colleges and universities to earn their degrees. And it’s a trend that’s catching on—a blog post at the Chronicle of Education featured a study showing a 17% increase in students who took at least one online course in the fall of 2008, the year the study was conducted. With those kinds of numbers, it’s clear that the demand for online college programs is sure to increase in the future.

But attending school online requires a trade-off. Students who choose to earn online degrees tend to want to focus solely on their education, but don’t forget the social aspect of pursuing your education.

Making Connections

Studying is often a solitary activity, but for students going to school online, it can be beneficial to have a regular study group. In addition to getting help from your fellow classmates, it also gives you a chance to socialize with other students who are attending online classes as well. If several of your classmates live near you, make an effort to reach out to them and invite them to study or review sessions. Of course, if you don’t live in an area with other online students, you can still have study sessions online. The goal is to meet new people, get out of your comfort zone, and to build a sense of community with your classmates.

Opportunities for Service

Advantages of online coursesMany schools offer service learning programs, which give students a chance to work with community organizations for school credit. In addition to learning more about your surrounding community, students can also start networking with community and business leaders for future job opportunities. If your online school doesn’t or can’t offer these programs, there’s no reason why you can’t start a service learning program of your own. Talk to your college counselor or department head about adding elements of service learning to your courses. You can also get other classmates who live nearby to join in and start a service learning group—an effort that would serve your community and look great on a resume.

Creating Your Own Campus

There are advantages to attending school on a physical campus: easy access to a gym or workout facilities, a well-appointed library, and student health care offices. Online colleges, of course, don’t offer these perks—but you can still find areas in your town that fill those needs. If you can’t afford a gym, consider joining your local YMCA for exercise, and you can use your local library for studying if you need to escape the distractions of home. The convenience of attending college online can give you the freedom to explore your area—and you can make your neighborhood your campus.

With the shift to online education, more students will engage in higher learning in a way that doesn’t resemble the traditional college experience. But meeting new people, building networks and getting involved in a community are still important—and they should still be priorities for online students. With effort and a little ingenuity, you can give yourself a full and memorable college experience.