How to Prepare for, Succeed in, and Enjoy Life as an Online College Student
As a senior admissions rep at American Public University, I talk to students every day about the application process and getting started with their degree program. Many are new to online learning, and they want to know what to expect.
I am taking classes here myself, and I have similar time commitments and responsibilities that a majority of them deal with: I work full time, have school-age children involved in after-school activities, and try to enjoy a little free time with family and friends.
Here are a few things I share with my students that work for me.
- Get your family and friends on board. Pursuing a college education is a big deal. Explain to your family what you are doing and why you are doing it, so they will support you in carving out the time you need for studying. If possible, involve them in setting up a new schedule. In my family, we take turns fixing dinner and washing up afterward. I do my turn on the nights after a big assignment is due, when I have more breathing room.
- Take advantage of the flexibility of online learning. All you need is a Wi-fi connection to log in to your classroom or do homework. I’ve taken my laptop to a wired coffee shop while my son attended soccer practice so I could do my turn in the carpooling schedule.
- Push through when you feel discouraged and unmotivated. It’s been a long day at work, and everyone else is relaxing, but you have 2 chapters to read in one class and a paper outline to turn in for the other. The last thing you want to do is log in and slog through these assignments. Stop to reflect on where you are in the course. It’s week 4, your grades are good, and you can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Tomorrow will be even busier, and you set aside this night to provide you with the study time to accomplish these goals. So sit down, turn on the computer, and just do it. You probably wouldn’t enjoy bagging it anyway–the guilt would haunt you!
- Realize you are setting a great example. When you turn on your computer and begin your school work instead of surfing the web or checking social media sites, your kids will notice. And it gives you more clout when you tell them to do their homework!
- Take advantage of the learning tools the school offers. APU has a great online library with everything you need to research papers and forum assignments. I stopped doing the blind Google search and started using the resource guides the subject-expert librarians have developed for my classes. I know the sources are legitimate, and it saves time too. APU also has a classroom support team that can help you resolve issues inside your classroom, such as finding course materials and figuring out how to submit an assignment.
- Enjoy what you are learning, and share it with your family and friends. If you are working on a paper or other assignment, discuss it at dinner or while driving on weekend errands. I’ve found that this stimulates great conversations and fleshes out what I’m learning. It also prompts my kids to share what they are doing in school. And it makes education seem exciting and relevant to the whole family.
- Tackle the obstacles, and celebrate the victories. Once I was supposed to access a quiz from an online source. I tried and tried but just couldn’t figure out how to do it. It was getting late and I was ready to quit but went over the syllabus and lesson description one more time, slowly and carefully. This time, the solution jumped out at me–success! I maneuvered to the right place and found the quiz. I realized I was learning more than the content of the course–I was learning that I could handle the technology associated with online education.
Earning an online degree is a great solution for the busy adult who wants to pursue a college education. Approach it with an open mind, a flexible attitude, and support from your family and friends. The rewards are well worth the time you spend.
By Hunter Barrat
Senior Admissions Representative at American Public University