University Pre-College Programs Online

Updated November 8, 2022

Students spend high school years dreaming of a college or university, and discovering online pre-college courses will prepare students for the future. 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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Online Pre-college Programs

Many students spend their full four years of high school dreaming of the day when they’ll be accepted into a college or university, but not all of them are prepared for the experience once they graduate. The online pre-college programs that we’ll discuss in this article were designed to address this specific dilemma.

Why Do Universities Offer Pre-College Programs?

While it’s endearing to think that colleges and universities offer pre-college programs for the noble purpose of preparing youngsters for a successful undergraduate experience, this isn’t always their primary goal. Some of these institutions turn a pretty profit off of the tuition costs for these offerings. At the same time, they use these programs as marketing tools to coax students into applying for a full four years or more. Even so, the transaction often makes for a win-win situation for both the institutions and the students who attend pre-college. While the universities get the chance to entice students and their parents with their academic offerings, students gain valuable skills and experiences that can set them up for success in college and beyond.

Who Should Attend Online Pre-College Programs?

Quality online pre-college programs can benefit just about any student with desires to attend a baccalaureate program. Having said that, it’s probably true that some students will get more out of this type of preparatory program than others. When deciding whether attending a pre-college program online is the right choice for you, it’s important to evaluate your personal and academic goals so that you can align them with a pre-college program that offers the type of preparation you need. For instance, if you need assistance in a certain academic discipline such as mathematics, for instance, then an online pre-college program that focuses on this particular subject may be of interest to you. On the other hand, if you want to experience college life in order to prepare yourself for living away from home, then a residential pre-college program may be a better option. Moreover, particularly busy students may benefit from a pre-college program offered via distance education. Many high school graduates spend their summers participating in extracurricular activities, traveling, or even studying abroad. An online pre-college program can help these students make the most out of the few months they have prior to freshman year.

Featured Online Undergrad Programs

Find a program that meets your affordability, flexibility, and education needs through an accredited, online school.

What Do Students Learn in Online Pre-College Programs

While all online pre-college programs aim to prepare students for the undergraduate experience, they don’t all go about it in the same way. Thus, the insights that attendees walk away with will depend on the type of program they choose. Some programs focus on honing the personal skills students will need to thrive as a freshman while others emphasize a certain academic subject, extracurricular activity, or common interest. Below, we list some of the different types of pre-college programs available:

  • Coding and Engineering Programs
  • Mathematics Programs
  • Music Programs
  • Study Abroad Programs
  • STEM Programs

Are Online Pre-College Programs Reputable?

The idea of attending a pre-college program online may seem too good to be true, but in most cases, these programs are comparable in quality to residential pre-college offerings. Some may even argue that there are online programs that are superior to their on-campus counterparts! Often, online classes are taught by the same faculty that teach on-campus, and the curriculum is similar, if not identical. Still, you’ll want to do your homework when selecting an online pre-college program. In particular, you’ll want to make sure that the program is offered by an accredited college or university.

For-Credit Vs. Non-Credit Pre-College Programs

One of the things you’ll want to consider when choosing an online pre-college program is whether or not the program offers college credit for program completion.  While this may or may not be the deciding factor when opting for one program over another, it’s definitely good to know if you’ll be receiving credit for the work you complete while enrolled in the program. It’s certainly a positive thing to begin your undergraduate career with credits already in hand, but many students find that the insight gained through a pre-college program is just as worthwhile.

Keep in mind that having college credit on the line may change the experience of a pre-college program for you. Though you’ll want to perform well whether you’re striving for credit or not, you may feel more pressure if you know you’re working towards earning credit. Depending on your personality, this may motivate you, or it may stress you out. Of course, once you’re officially enrolled, credit will be an inherent part of your life, so it’s up to you to decide whether to embrace it sooner rather than later.

Typically, for-credit pre-college programs will be slightly more rigorous than non-credit programs and will focus more on your performance and participation, though there are exceptions. While this could make the environment of the program more intense, it can also be helpful. When a grade is on the line, you’re more likely to receive constructive feedback from your professors that could help improve your skills in the long run.

Featured Online Pre-College Program: Brown University

Brown University offers pre-college programs and courses on-campus, abroad, and online. The university’s online offering is asynchronous, which gives students maximum flexibility to pursue other activities and interests during the summer before entering college. Although coursework is academically rigorous, it’s also delivered via a fairly relaxed pace, and students need only commit ten hours a week to their studies. The specific classes students take span a wide variety of academic disciplines, giving students a broad introduction to college learning. At the same time, courses are specific enough to give students an idea of the depth of study that occurs in a college classroom. Below, we list some sample course titles that online students can expect to take:

Brown University’s Online Pre-College Program: Sample Course Titles

  • Climate and Climate Change: Scientific, Societal, and Global Implications
  • So You Want to Be a Doctor?
  • Reading, Writing, and Travelling: An Exploration in Creative Non-fiction
  • Materials Science and Engineering: Designing for Society’s Needs
  • DNA Science: Forensics, Food, and Medicine
  • Body At Work: Anatomy, Physiology, and Disease
  • Writing For College and Beyond

Students who have attended Brown University’s pre-college program online report that the online format isn’t at all restrictive and, in fact, encourages interaction among students and their classmates and professors. The program is also surprisingly hands-on for an online offering, and professors make a point to integrate applied learning activities into the curriculum. For example, students enrolled in the online course on climate change were asked to interview community members about local ecological issues.

Massive Online Open Courses (MOOC): An Alternative to Traditional Online Pre-College Programs

The emergence of massive online open courses, or MOOC, in the early 2000s transformed distance learning and made learning at the college level more accessible than ever before. MOOC provides access to high-quality, academically rigorous university courses via the Internet, and one of the best things about these offerings is that the vast majority of them are entirely free!

The primary goal of massive online open courses is to make higher education accessible to all types of students, despite their age, socioeconomic status, or other perceived barriers. Thus, these types of classes aren’t specifically designed for recent high school graduates, but there’s nothing stopping these students from taking full advantage of what MOOC has to offer. They can be an especially good option for students on a budget or those who wish to customize their own pre-college experience.

MOOC Providers

Some of the top universities in the country offer massive online open courses. That’s part of what makes them so appealing. Below, we list some of these reputable institutes of higher learning:

  • Stanford University
  • Harvard University
  • Arizona State University
  • Michigan Institute of Technology
  • Brown University
  • Ohio State University
  • Boston University
  • University of California – Berkeley
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Texas at Austin
  • Cornell University
  • Princeton University
  • University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign

Non-Credit vs. For-Credit MOOCs

Most massive online open courses are non-credit classes, but there are exceptions to this rule. Some universities offer MOOCs with the possibility of earning credit. It is important to note that many of these for-credit options will come with a fee, though. Sometimes, you’ll only have to pay for the course if you pass or earn the grade you desire, however. For high school graduates planning to attend college, MOOCs for credit provide a great way to get a jump on freshman year—without ever leaving home!

Featured MOOC Offering: Global Freshman Academy from Arizona State University and edX

The Global Freshman Academy from Arizona State University and edX harnesses the power of MOOCs to enable pre-college students to earn college credit before they’re even accepted into a college or university. No application is necessary, and students can begin taking classes at their convenience. Classes are taught by the same faculty members who teach on-campus at Arizona State, and once they’ve completed their coursework, students can apply their credit towards a degree program at ASU or from another college or university of their choice.

ASU and edX’s Global Freshman Academy: Sample Course Titles

Many of the massive online open courses offered through ASU and edX’s Global Freshman Academy are the same ones college freshmen take to fulfill their general education requirements. Some of these course titles are listed below:

English Composition: Research and Writing


Introduction to Health and Wellness

College Algebra and Problem Solving

Introduction to Sociology

Western Civilization: Ancient and Medieval Europe

Courses are self-paced, and students work towards mastery of the subject matter on an individual basis.

Frequently-Asked Questions About Online Pre-College Programs

Still have questions about online pre-college programs? No problem! In this section, we’ll answer some of the most commonly asked questions about these types of programs. Keep in mind that the best source of information will ultimately be the college or university you plan to attend for pre-college.

Q: What do online pre-college programs cost?

A: Online pre-college programs vary greatly in terms of cost. Some come with quite an expensive price tag while others can be very affordable (or even free, as in the case of many MOOCs). Therefore, it’s best to check with the specific program you’re thinking of attending for tuition information. When doing this research, keep in mind that financial aid may be available to help you foot some or all of the bill.

Q: How long do online pre-college programs last?

A: The duration of online pre-college programs is something else that varies from program to program. You can expect to spend anywhere between a couple of weeks to an entire summer on your studies. Depending on what else you hope to accomplish before officially enrolling in college, this factor may affect your program choice.

Q: Are scholarships available for online pre-college programs?

A: Yes. It is possible to find scholarships that will help pay for online pre-college programs, but it depends on the program. Generally speaking, there are two types of scholarships you could qualify for: need-based scholarships and merit scholarships. In addition, there may be specific scholarships available for certain demographics of students, such as scholarships for female students or minorities, for example.

Q: Does attending a pre-college program guarantee acceptance into the college or university?

A: No, but it may help. While admission into a pre-college program doesn’t indicate that you’ll necessarily be accepted into any specific college or university, it can be a positive mark on your application. These institutions will view your attendance as an indication that you’re an ambitious student who’s now better prepared for the college experience.

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