University students are more likely to feel satisfied and persist with their studies if their experiences have met their expectations, and vice versa (Wu, Tsai, Chen, & Wu, 2006). Understanding what online students expect, therefore, is important to guide how universities might satisfy and retain these students. Research into online student expectations to date, however, has been limited to pre-defined expectations of the academic experience, and extrapolations from traditional higher education. To gain a deeper understanding of what online students expect, the author conducted in-depth interviews with 43 commencing online students. Thematic analysis revealed online students’ expectations were described by six key themes: Motivation, Ability, Circumstances, Interaction, Curriculum, and Environment. The findings offer an empirical, student-centred, and multifaceted understanding of online student expectations. Opportunities are illuminated to clarify inaccurate expectations, and to design online education to better meet student needs, facilitating enhanced online student satisfaction and retention.