For students who can’t attend an on-campus degree program due to work, family or other obligations, the convenience offered by an online program is unbeatable. The number of online education options available has increased steadily over the past decade, and a study by U.S. News & World Report found that nearly two-thirds of colleges surveyed now offer at least some programs that can be completed entirely online. Many courses that once required hands-on laboratory study can use technology, such as simulations and modeling, to accomplish the same goals without ever requiring students to set foot on a campus. With more opportunities to earn the education they want, it’s no surprise that many students are interested in online programs. If you’re preparing to start an online education, you may wonder if you will have to buy and install any special software on your computer.

Online Learning Platforms

Many colleges and universities that offer online degree programs have their own learning platform that students can log into. Often, these platforms include course materials such as assigned readings, forums or discussion boards where virtual class discussions can take place and a way to upload assignments for evaluation. In courses that take place entirely online, even examinations are administered through these web-based platforms.

Some courses may require you to purchase special software. For example, computer science courses in which students design software will call for additional programs. Science classes that traditionally have in-person laboratory components may require special software for performing virtual laboratory experiences. While the purchase of special software can seem like a big financial investment, students of online college degree programs can consider these expenses as similar to purchasing textbooks (which may or may not be required for online courses) for traditional degree programs.

Common Software for All Programs

Obviously, to take courses online, you must have Internet access and install a web browser on your computer. Even if the degree program in which you are enrolled doesn’t have specific software requirements, many software programs could be helpful to you during your educational career. Some of these programs would be important even if you were getting your education through a traditional program that required you to attend classes on campus on a regular basis.

For example, word-processing software, the programs used to create documents like written essays and reports, are often necessary for you to complete your coursework. Microsoft Office Suite, which includes Microsoft Word for word-processing and Microsoft Excel for creating spreadsheets, is among the most commonly used programs for college students to have regardless of whether they are pursuing their degree through online or traditional programs.

If you are considering enrollment in an online degree program, don’t let software requirements deter you from advancing your education. Contact your advisor or course instructor with any software questions. Remember that any software you purchase for your education is an investment in your career, and is yours to keep for future use.