Online Skills-Based College Prep Programs for High School Students

Updated November 8, 2022

Discover those online skill-based college-prep options as well as their advantages and drawbacks. We’ll also highlight a few programs. 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.

Are you ready to discover your college program?

Skills-Based Online Prep Programs

College is a giant academic leap from high school, and as such, it requires careful preparation, often beyond what high school can provide. Thus, students and their parents often spend the summer after senior year brushing up on skills that will give them the competitive edge they need to succeed in college and in their future careers. Traditionally, summer college-prep programs offered by colleges and universities themselves have been the primary means of preparation for students. Today, there are more options to consider than ever before, though. In this article, we’ll explore some of those non-traditional college-prep options as well as their advantages and drawbacks. We’ll also highlight a few programs to give you an idea of what’s out there to choose from.

Why Non-Traditional, Skills-Based Online College Prep Programs?

Non-traditional, skills-based online college prep programs are on the rise, and there are many reasons to consider these alternative options. While it may seem daring to entrust your last summer of learning before college to a little-known organization, there can be plenty of upsides to taking such a risk.  First, these offerings tend to be significantly less expensive than their university-sponsored counterparts. We’re talking hundreds of dollars (or even less) compared to the thousands of dollars you’d be required to fork out for traditional college-prep programs. Moreover, these third-party offerings often focus on real-world skills that students can apply directly to their studies and eventually, to their jobs as well. While it’s a generalization to say that college and university college-prep programs deal more in theory than practicality, it’s too often the case. Finally, alternatives to traditional college prep options tend to be more flexible. Not only are many of them offered entirely online, but they offer multiple learning options too. For instance, you can choose to take a single course in one subject, blend courses from multiple subjects, or even pursue a certificate or specialization. While some traditional college-prep programs offer customization options, it’s not likely you’ll have as much freedom to individualize your learning the way you would with a non-traditional program.

What Types of Skills Are Taught in Online Skills-Based College Prep Programs?

The learning possibilities for students enrolled in online skills-based college prep programs are virtually endless. While some programs focus on the types of skills needed for college success such as academic writing, research, and critical thinking, for example, others hone in on the subjects students plan to study at the college level as well as the skills they’ll need to succeed in their future careers. Since these programs vary so widely in terms of their content and curricula, it’s important that students do their due diligence to find out exactly what learning opportunities they’ll have prior to enrollment.

How Do Online Skills-Based College Prep Programs Work?

Thanks to advancements in technology, students preparing for college have a lot more options today than they did just 20 years ago. Now, students can learn what they need to be successful in their undergraduate years and beyond from the comfort of their homes—or anywhere else with a Wifi hotspot! Instead of learning in a traditional classroom, students can now gain knowledge and skills in a virtual environment. This could mean participating in live streams or teleconferences, watching prerecorded lectures, discussing course materials with fellow students in a chat room, posting comments in an online forum, or all of the above. It’s important to note that some courses require specific login times while others are completely asynchronous, meaning students can work on their course material anytime they want, even in the middle of the night! When deciding on a program that fits an individual student’s schedule and learning style, it’s crucial that he or she weigh their scheduling requirements with the amount of engagement they need from an online skills-based college prep program.

There are many skills-based college prep programs available online. In the remaining sections of this article, we’ll feature a few of your options.

Featured Online Programs

Explore programs of your interests with the high-quality standards and flexibility you need to take your career to the next level.

Featured Program: Coursera

Coursera is a learning platform founded in 2012 by two computer science professors at Stanford University. These instructors wanted to see how many students they could reach with their courses by wielding the power of technology and the Internet. Today, Coursera partners with over 150  distinguished universities and world-class organizations to offer rigorous academic courses to students anywhere, anytime. Notable partnerships include Rice University, Google Cloud, Johns Hopkins University, The Modern Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, National Geographic Society, Goldman Sachs, University of Kentucky, and the American Museum of Natural History, for example.

Coursera currently offers more than 2,700 courses in dozens of academic disciplines via their distance learning platform. Courses last between four and six weeks and cost between $29-$99 each.

Below are some examples of the subjects and courses that are available on Coursera.

Coursera: Academic Categories

  • Business
  • Computer Science
  • Personal Development
  • Information Technology
  • Data Science
  • Language Learning
  • Life Sciences
  • Math & Logic
  • Social Sciences
  • Arts and Humanities

Coursera: Sample Course Titles

  • Game Theory
  • Mathematics for Machine Learning
  • English for Career Development
  • Rethinking International Tax Law
  • The Science of Wellbeing
  • IT Security: Defense Against the Digital Dark Arts
  • Network Protocols and Architecture
  • Applied Data Science with Python
  • Foundations of Positive Psychology
  • Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
  • Achieving Personal and Professional Success

Coursera also offers options for students who wish to combine courses to form a specialization. These specializations include several related courses and typically take between four and six months to complete. They’re priced affordably at $39-$79 per month. Upon completion of a specialization, students receive a certificate in the specific area of study they’ve chosen. Below are some sample specialization options offered by Coursera:

Sample Coursera Specializations

    • Machine Learning
    • Successful Negotiation: Essential Skills and Strategies
    • Career Success
    • Data Science
    • Business Foundations
    • Introduction to Food and Health
    • Academic English: Writing
    • Digital Marketing
    • Deep Learning
    • Graphic Design
    • Dynamic Public Speaking
    • Financial Engineering and Risk Management
    • Creative Writing
    • Computer Security and Systems Management

Featured Program: Pioneer Academics Global Research Program

Pioneer Academics Global Research Program is a unique online college-prep program that focuses on honing the specific research skills students need to thrive in the collegiate academic environment and even beyond the college level. The mission of the program is to cross geographic, cultural, and socioeconomic barriers to provide high school students with engaging and challenging learning opportunities in research that will prepare them for success as they enter their undergraduate degree programs. The program attracts students from 43 different countries and offers need-based scholarships to make the program more accessible to families of all income levels in systems where financial needs are assessable.

As an online college-level research program, Pioneer is different from MOOC(massive open online course) or from summer schools of the top colleges. Pioneer offers customized academic mentorship with professors in person for high school students instead of hosting the lecture videos. It is the only US college credit-bearing online research for high school students who are seeking academic challenges at the level of college independent studies.

Pioneer Academics Global Research Program: How the Program Works

When students apply to the Pioneer Academics Global Research Program, they will choose a broad academic discipline in which to focus their studies. For example, students may indicate that they’d like to study mathematics, literature, natural sciences, humanities, or social sciences, for instance. Once they are admitted to the program, they will work with their professor(s) to choose a more specific academic focus area. This chosen specialty will become the topic of their academic research project, which they will work on over the duration of the program. One notable feature of the Pioneer program is that independent research driven by the student is not just encouraged but required for successful completion of their chosen project. At the end of their program, they will present a final research paper which Pioneer certifies its originality and academic rigor. The students also receive college credits for their work that are transferable to the college that they choose to attend. Below are examples of past projects Pioneer students have completed.

Pioneer Academics Global Research Program: Past Project Samples

    • International Political Economy
    • Computer-Based Modeling for Engineers
    • Social Transformation in Europe Since the Enlightenment
    • Statistical Analysis of Psychological Trends
    • Cross-Cultural Conflict in the Middle East
    • Combinatorics and Graph Theory

As they study their chosen academic discipline and focus area and work towards completion of their final paper, students will meet with real college and university professors over the course of ten interactive sessions. This includes both group and one-on-one sessions. Using video-conferencing software, students will collaborate with fellow students and instructors in real time. Thus, the program offers students the experience of being a scholar mentored by a leading college professor like a Ph.D. student in a classic college approach, but with the convenience and flexibility that only distance education can provide.

Featured Program: Udacity

Like Coursera, Udacity also strives to level the playing field for prospective students, facilitating higher education for all, despite geographic or socioeconomic barriers. Udacity isn’t specifically tailored to high school students, but it certainly has a lot to offer students who want to get a leg up on learning in a particular field prior to studying it in college. This can be helpful for students who have a learning gap to overcome in a particular area or for those who want to explore a field prior to committing to a college course or even major. Udacity’s coursework can be highly technical, but no prior experience is necessary for many of their offerings. This feature is particularly appealing to students fresh out of high school.

Udacity: How the Program Works

Udacity has partnered with industry leaders in a wide range of in-demand job fields to develop what they refer to as “nanodegree” programs. Students work on their coursework on their own time, and all nanodegree requirements can be met entirely online. Upon completion, students will receive a credential, proving their expertise in a certain discipline.

Udacity: Nanodegree Examples

      • Artificial Intelligence for Trading
      • Data Science
      • Deep Reinforcement Learning
      • Natural Language Processing
      • Flying Cars and Autonomous Flight
      • Google AdWords
      • Business Analytics
      • Robotics Software Engineer
      • Introduction to Programming
      • Digital Marketing
      • Predictive Analytics for Business
      • Android Developer
      • Mobile Web Specialist

Frequently-Asked Questions About Online Skills-Based College Prep Programs

Can skills-based college prep programs be completed entirely online?

Yes. Many skills-based college prep programs can be completed without ever visiting an actual campus. This includes the programs we’ve featured in this article. Still, it’s important to check with the specific program you’re considering attending. Some skill-based college prep programs that advertise an online component may still require a campus residency or orientation.

Are there other types of college prep programs to consider?

Yes. Online skills-based college prep programs like the ones we highlight in this article aren’t the only types of programs available. Traditional, campus-based programs may be better suited for some students, for example. Still, others emphasize academic theory rather than practical skills and can be good for students who plan to eventually study at the graduate level, for instance.

Are there admissions requirements for skills-based college prep programs?

Sometimes. While many programs are open to any and all types of students, some may require a certain minimum GPA. Check with the specific program you’re planning to attend. Otherwise, having a bit of computer literacy and technical know-how is all the prerequisites you’ll need to get started in an online skills-based college prep program.

Will I receive college credit for completing a skills-based college prep program?

Not usually, but it doesn’t hurt to check with the specific program you’re interested in. The primary purpose of these programs is to develop skills that will help you succeed in college and beyond, but some may offer some credit as well. Additionally, these programs may provide you with the knowledge base to test out of some prerequisite courses required for your major.

How much does it cost to attend an online skills-based college prep program?

The cost of these programs can vary widely, but most are less expensive than their on-campus counterparts. Payment options can also vary from program to program. You may be asked to pay for the entire program upfront, or you could have the option of paying per course or enrolling in a payment plan. In some cases, scholarships or other forms of financial aid may be available to help foot the bill for online skills-based college prep programs.

Related Ranking:

More Best College Reviews Resources

See all posts