School is a big time commitment, and the advice you’ll get is similar to what you’ll hear as a first time parent. Things like, “your priorities will change” and “it’s not just about you anymore, it’s a big commitment!” You may nod and smile in response, but don’t let others deter you from pursuing your dreams. If getting a degree online is in your plans to further your working knowledge, and to satisfy your curiousity then go for it! Just make sure to educate yourself on what you’ll expect before you enroll online.
1. Make sure you’re comfortable managing your time.
Since the format is virtual, you won’t have a professor coming up to your desk in class asking why you’ve been missing so many assignments. Online learning is at your own pace, but the only person reminding you to check assignments and discussion board posts will be yourself. You’ll need to develop some great time management skills quick in order to stay on top.
2. The school should be regionally or nationally accredited, or both.
Accreditation is an important factor in deciding on investing in higher education. While there are many different types of accrediting agencies, the important thing to know is that the accrediting agency is recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (www.chea.org) — which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education.
3. You need to be comfortable using technology…for just about the entirety of your program.
Since the online education format is solely online, you will be reliant on your internet connection and laptop/desktop. You can’t use your car breaking down, or dog eating your homework as an excuse for missing assignments. Check out the school’s technology requirements first.
4. There are several ways to make connections with classmates. Just because you’re online doesn’t mean you’re alone.
This is a big question for many looking at online schools. And even though you don’t have the daily interaction with peers in the physical sense, there is always interaction through social mediums like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and also inside the classroom. Online learning can, for some, be more productive and beneficial in terms of absorbing information because there isn’t the distraction of being in a physical classroom. It’s just about the relay of information from one source, your professor and peers, to another, you.
5. Once you apply, make sure to develop a working relationship with your academic advisor.
Don’t wait until after registering for too many classes. Make first contact after you’ve applied to the school of your choice. Once you’re in there are 5 questions you should ask up front. Ask them if transfer credit should be used, or if you’re in the right degree program.
Once you’ve followed my list you should be ready to begin your program. Don’t be afraid to ask for help along the way. Online education is a great medium of delivery for education, but it does have its challenges. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, talk to your advisor or sign up with a tutor. Your education is what you make of it, so make the most out of your experience.
By J. Mason