Self-Paced Online College Courses

Explore the top self-paced online colleges and learn what it will take to earn your degree.

Updated September 19, 2023

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Studying and Attending College at Your Own Pace

College students benefit from a variety of learning options. Besides on-campus courses, they can also enroll in online classes. Many schools offer self-paced online college courses. These classes give students the most flexibility possible while earning a college degree.

Self-paced online college degrees let learners make their schedule, without required meeting times or due dates. The self-paced learning format appeals to busy students and those with prior knowledge. Motivated learners complete self-paced online courses faster than a typical term. This guide lists the top self-paced online college degrees, helping prospective students find the best fit for them. is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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Questions About Self-paced College Degrees and Courses

Can I Do College at My Own Pace?

Yes. Students can complete college courses at their own pace. In self-paced online college courses, learners do coursework around other obligations. They do not need to follow set meeting times or due dates. Some students complete an entire program through self-paced classes. The format appeals to working professionals and busy students.

How Much Do Self-paced Courses Cost?

The cost of self-paced online courses vary by school and degree level. Students should expect to spend $300-$1,100 per credit for undergraduate classes at four-year institutions. Community colleges often charge lower rates. For example, Waubonsee Community College offers self-paced classes and charges $132 per credit.

Do Self-paced Courses Have Completion Timelines?

Yes. Self-paced online courses set a maximum time to complete the class. Many programs give learners up to six months to complete self-paced classes. Students must meet all requirements within that time, but move through the coursework at their own pace. Enrollees with prior knowledge in the topic often complete self-paced courses sooner.

What is the Difference Between Self-paced and Instructor Led?

An instructor-led class uses a set schedule, with regular assignments and exams throughout the term. In-person and online courses use the instructor-led format. For example, classes with a syllabus detailing weekly expectations use the instructor-led format. In contrast, self-paced online courses let learners complete material on their schedule, without set deadliness.

What is Self-Paced Learning?

Self-paced learning lets students complete coursework and assignments at their own pace. Unlike the traditional format, where classes happen at set times, self-paced online courses prioritize flexibility. Learners often watch recorded lectures and videos instead of attending live class sessions. They do reading assignments, projects, and tests as they finish course materials.

Without set deadlines, students in self-paced classes complete requirements when they feel confident about the material. Like other distance learning programs, self-paced online courses occur in a virtual learning environment. Designed for maximum flexibility, self-paced online college courses help learners arrange coursework around their other responsibilities.

While many classes follow a semester, self-paced online courses give students a window of time to finish the class. Many programs allow up to six months per class. Learners set their own schedule to complete the requirements within that time frame.

Top Self-paced Online College Programs

Many two-year and four-year schools offer self-paced online college degrees. Learners can earn an associate or bachelor's through these programs. Prospective students choose from public and private institutions, including religiously affiliated schools. Many of the top-ranked programs charge very low tuition rates, some under $200 per credit.

The list below introduces schools offering self-paced programs. Prospective students should check with potential schools to learn more about their program offerings.

Columbia College

Founded in 1851, Columbia College's online campus offers over 30 fully online programs and over 350 online classes. Students pursue programs at their own pace. They may sit out for a session if needed. Over 16,000 students take online classes through Columbia each year.

Program Website

Location: Columbia, MO Amount: $375 per credit hour

Fort Hays State University

Located in central Kansas, Fort Hays State University offers over 200 online degrees and certificates.

Program Website

Location: Hays, KS Amount: $226.88 per credit hour

Liberty University

This Lynchburg, Virginia Christian college enrolls over 30,000 military students and 900 international students annually. Liberty offers a flexible learning environment, letting students do assignments at their own pace.

Program Website

Location: Lynchburg, VA Amount: $455 per credit for part-time students; $390 per credit for full-time students

Rasmussen College

Rasmussen College hosts campus locations in six states and has an online college. Rasmussen's Flex Choice learning options let self-guided students receive credit for previous knowledge.

Program Website

Location: Maitland, FL Amount: $175 + $15 book fee (e-book or paper)

University of Florida

University of Florida in Gainesville offers 29 self-paced courses. Examples include beginning Spanish, psychology, and journalism. Students do not need UF admittance to enroll in these classes. Self-guided learners get 16 weeks to finish a class.

Program Website

Location: Gainesville, FL Amount: $212.71 per credit hour

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

The University of Illinois offers over 90 online programs and over 1,300 online classes. The university's course offerings include 19 self-paced online courses in mathematics.

Program Website

Location: Urbana, IL Amount: $416 per credit hour

University of North Dakota

As the largest postsecondary institution in the state, UND hosts more than 15,000 students annually. The school offers self-paced online language courses in German, Norwegian, and Spanish. Students get up to nine months to finish coursework, or 12 months if they request a time extension.

Program Website

Location: Grand Forks, ND Amount: $370.08 per credit

Upper Iowa University

Upper Iowa University offers seven self-paced online college degrees and certificates and six paper-based self-guided degrees.

Program Website

Location: Fayette, IA Amount: $330 per credit

Waubonsee Community College

Waubonsee hosts four campus locations in Illinois and an online campus. The online college features five associate degrees. Students can earn credit by examination. Students in the QuickPath program can complete an associate degree in just one year.

Program Website

Location: Plano, IL Amount: $132 per credit hour

Five Tips for Self-paced Program Success

Students used to a more structured learning environment may struggle with a self-paced learning format. Succeeding in self-paced online college degrees requires a different skill set. By planning ahead, creating good study habits, and getting support, learners can do well in self-paced programs.

  1. 1

    Choose the Right Program

    Prospective students should research programs carefully to find the right fit for their needs. Besides cost, program length, and courses, review schools' accreditation status. Accredited colleges meet high academic excellence standards and qualify for federal student aid programs.

  2. 2

    Manage Your Time Easily

    Time management matters in self-paced online college courses. With no deadlines, students could quickly fall behind. Learners must set their own goals and deadlines to make progress toward their degree. Many self-paced programs offer guidelines and suggested timelines for completing courses. Make sure to pay careful attention to the maximum time allowed for self-paced online courses.

  3. 3

    Establish a Good Workspace

    While distance learners can do coursework from anywhere, creating a good workspace helps them focus. Choose a space with limited distractions, good lighting, and solid ergonomics. Some students benefit from changing locations while working. Others prefer to create a single workspace to focus their attention.

  4. 4

    Use Campus Resources

    Online colleges provide many resources to help students succeed, including online tutoring services and writing centers. Distance learners often get access to library resources and academic advising services as well. Finally, degree-seekers should research their school's career planning services to transition from college into the workforce.

  5. 5

    Seek Help

    Distance learners struggling with coursework or the self-paced learning format should reach out for help. Instructors, classmates, and academic advisors all help students identify solutions to their struggles. For example, instructors connect learners with extra course resources, while advisors recommend campus resources.

What's the Difference Between Self-paced Programs and Other Online Programs?

How do self-paced online courses differ from other online classes? Most online programs offer coursework either synchronously or asynchronously. Students attend class on the semester system, with many programs offering accelerated online terms.

In contrast, self-paced online courses give learners the freedom to set their schedule. Without live class meetings or assignment deadlines, students do coursework at their own pace. Each learning format appeals to different students.

A synchronous learning format uses live class sessions at set times. Unlike a self-paced program, students must attend live meetings held in a virtual format. Synchronous online classes resemble a traditional classroom experience the most. However, students use a distance learning platform to attend class and complete course materials.

An asynchronous learning format offers lectures, assignments, and projects with no set meeting times. Learners watch recorded videos, interact with classmates on discussion boards, and complete assignments anytime. However, the course still features set deadlines and uses a term schedule, unlike a self-paced course.

In self-paced classes, learners complete materials at their own pace, without set due dates or meeting times. Most self-paced classes do set a maximum amount of time to finish the course. Self-paced classes appeal to busy students and working professionals with varied time to devote to school.

Interview With a College Expert

Dale Leatherwood

Dale Leatherwood, co-founder of online education concierge service ClearDegree, has more than 20 years of experience in training and higher education, including extensive experience in distance learning for synchronous, asynchronous, and self-paced programs.

Q: What are the main benefits of self-paced programs and courses?

With synchronous and asynchronous learning formats, students typically can't work ahead and finish the class faster. That constraint can hamper students who enroll with a wealth of knowledge. With self-paced learning, students with a high degree of competency in a given subject can quickly test out of the class.

You can finish the material as fast as you want. It's a growing trend in online education, and by far, that's the biggest advantage. You can adjust your learning to the pace that's needed and take either more time or less time. It's all about what you know as opposed to how much work you have done. You are not tied down to the pace of a class or the Carnegie Unit system of credit hours, where professors are required to teach a certain number of classroom hours.

Q: What's the main counsel you provide to students interested in self-guided programs?

Adapt your plan of attack for the level of the class. Education is centered around high school graduates who don't know much coming into college. In a typical program, you start off with easier classes, such as core general education, and then take core courses in your degree path, followed by upper-level classes specific to your degree.

When you get to your junior and senior years, the key to success is pacing correctly, because those are the classes that mean the most toward your degree and your career — and they also are the most difficult. You can't have the same pace with those classes as you do with the easier work. Set goals accordingly based on your path through the degree, and you will be much better off.

Additional Resources

Californians and out-of-state students benefit from these resources. They cover finding the right school, identifying your educational style, and finding more information. National Center for Education Statistics data informs College Navigator to help prospective students learn more about schools. The resource lets users compare schools, evaluate graduation rates, and make an informed college decision. A federal student aid office resource, the checklist covers preparing for college for high schoolers, adult students, or parents. The checklist also provides information on federal aid programs and other ways to pay for school. The federal student aid program distributes $120 billion in student aid each year. Visitors can learn about college preparation, types of federal aid, and FAFSA deadlines.

Related articles that may interest you is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

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