By definition, online college courses require students to be online to complete or submit work, take examinations, access lecture materials and participate in class discussions. However, there’s no absolute requirement that students must use a traditional computer or even that the device they use must belong to them personally. It’s certainly ideal for online college students to have a personal computer that they can access whenever they need to, but if unexpected technical or financial problems leave you without a personal computer, you may still be able to continue your coursework.

Mobile Devices

In some instances, students can use a mobile device for taking an online college class. As smartphones and tablets become increasingly popular, fewer people are using actual computers when they access the Internet. As a result, schools and online learning platforms are making changes to support mobile learning. The University of Phoenix and the University of Southern California are among the schools that offer mobile apps, as does the virtual learning platform Blackboard. Keep in mind that not all schools use learning platforms that your mobile device will support. If your plan is to use a mobile device, either exclusively or as a replacement for an out-of-order computer, consult your school’s software recommendations or discuss your options with your school’s information technology staff.

Other Alternatives

If you can’t use a mobile device to access your online course material, then a computer may be your only option. Despite the inconvenience, it is possible for students to complete online coursework using computers that do not belong to them personally. Some students complete their coursework at library computers. If your job requires you to work at a computer, you may be able to stay late at the office or request permission to take your work laptop home and use that computer for your online class. If your school happens to have a brick-and-mortar campus nearby, you can visit a school computer lab to do your work. Another option is to rent a computer through your school or a company like Google, which rents laptops to students for $20 per month. Some online schools may even offer computers as part of their tuition packages.

The good news is that if your computer crashes mid-semester or if you’re not able to purchase a computer at the same time you’re shelling out money for tuition, there are ways to continue your studies without one, at least temporarily. Unfortunately, this may mean having to give up the flexibility of being able to complete your coursework on your own schedule without having to travel, which is one of the biggest benefits of taking online courses. For your long-term online college career, though, it’s recommended that you find some way to attain a personal computer. Choosing a consistent, distraction-free workspace for completing your coursework is one of the most important factors in achieving success, according to U.S. News & World Report.