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What Can MOOCs Do For Your Chances of Getting Into a U.S. College?

Colleges want to find the best students every bit as much as those students want to find the best colleges. Online courses are an effective way to make that match.


 

In recent years, college professors have shared their knowledge through massive open online courses (MOOCs), an exciting development for students all over the the world.

Today, it’s becoming clear that taking the online courses also helps students gain admission at U.S. colleges.

Colleges want to find the best students every bit as much as those students want to find the best colleges. Online courses are an effective way to make that match. “One of the values the online classes have is they are accessible to a range of students who may not otherwise have had rigorous coursework available to them,” says Stuart Schmill, MIT’s director of admissions.

For example, in 2013, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology admitted Battushig Myanganbayar from Mongolia after Myanganbayar had earned a perfect score at age 15 on the university’s first MOOC, about circuits and electronics. The online course replicated a sophomore-level class at MIT, and Myanganbayar’s success at such a young age told the school he would be able to handle coursework at the institute. And it told him that MIT taught courses that would interest him.

Without the MOOC, MIT would never have heard of Myanganbayar, and he may not have applied for admission.

Illustration by Hemant Bhatnagar

“If a student takes an edX class we’re familiar with,” says Schmill, referring to the nonprofit with which MIT distributes its MOOCs, “and does well in it, it gives us an indication of how that student might do in a rigorous course. It’s more good information for us.”

Carleen Maitland, a professor at Penn State University, has consulted on MOOC Camps, programs held at several U.S. embassies around the world to augment online courses with facilitated discussions. Such courses, Maitland says, allow participants to “test-drive a U.S. education” and “identify for themselves if this is the path they want to go down.”

“If we offer a MOOC Camp and we have a student who really gets the content,” Maitlin says, “this might be a student we approach and say, ‘Hey, have you thought about some of our programs to support scholars coming to the U.S.?’”

If it sounds like that could be you, explore MOOC Camps through the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to find one near you. You can learn more about the U.S. admissions process with the University of Pennsylvania’s on-demand MOOC “Applying to U.S. Universities.”

 

Mark Trainer is a writer with the U.S. State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs.