New students often arrive with the idea that earning a bachelor’s degree will be relatively easy because they have already earned a high school diploma. Some new students view earning a college degree to be much the same as their high school experience. However, once in a college program, the student realizes the commitment needed for an online course and the student goes through a series of shocks about undergraduate education. The first shock is about how much work must be done; the second shock is about the quality required of the work.
The first shock is about the amount of work required. College work is more than just attendance. Professors are going to expect work on time, week after week for four long years. After the initial shock, of the quantity of reading and work, they realize that college needs to be a priority in their life. A standard week for an online university student would be to read multiple articles or chapters in the book, respond to one discussion question, complete one assignment, and to make two to four substantial participation posts in the forums.
The first shock is hard to get past, because with so many assignments due every week that students find themselves underwater by week two. A first time student that has not made a commitment to school may find themselves drowning in course work. Within a couple of weeks, it becomes clear very quickly that school work should be done every day for the student to be successful. Furthermore, this is a routine that will continue for eight weeks or so per class and will likely go on for around four years.
The new student has the second shock when they realize quickly that they not only need to complete the work, but the work also has to be at a quality level above what they have been used to in the past. University work requires more research, and critical thinking and analysis, which might not have been required in high school work. Gone are the summaries and book reports that often make up the bulk of the work that the student completed in high school. This may come as a surprise to students fresh out of high school because many have poor time management habits and often would rely upon completing the work the night before it is due.
It becomes clear very quickly that when they do not make the time necessary for good research as well making the time to edit and craft their written work, they find their assignment grade to be lacking. Many students write similar in style to reporters rather than writing academically in a scholarly voice. This writing does evolve over time as students receive feedback on how to improve their academic voice. Once over this second shock, the student seeks out some type of sustainable framework to cope with the situation. After all, they have four long years ahead of them.
Very quickly students realize the high level of commitment needed in order to be successful. The student must now learn to adapt, or else they will likely give up. To overcome these two shocks, the student must be committed to the success in the program and must make a serious and realistic time commitment. The successful student needs to enter with three commitments: a clear understanding of expectations, a solid time management plan, and an open mind ready for success in their chosen program.
The commitment that a student must make is to accept that an undergraduate degree will take 10-20 hours a week (as a part time student, more for full time) for the next four years. Due to this time demand upon the student, it is a must to create a time management plan to make sure that there is time for all the things in life that the student wants to accomplish. There needs to be time for work, for family, school and fun. It is a challenge, because students need to find time where there was no time before. To this end, here are seven strategies that students have used in order to find the time necessary for the commitment of an undergraduate degree.
1. Plan out the day. Students can plan out their day to make sure that they have two hours a day that they can dedicate to school. Dedicate time to college and hold to the plan for the day.
2. Dedicate a study/reading nook. Find a place in your home that you will use specifically for classwork. Having the space defined ahead of time will give you a place to go when distractions are calling your name.
3. Make one day of the weekend dedicated to school. If one can work, 8-10 hours a day for a career, one can spend one day over the weekend to get a lot of school work done. You might not be able to do everything in that one day for school, but it certainly will make it easier for the rest of the week.
4. Cut out some TV time. If the student watches TV when they get home, instead, dedicate some of that time for school work. The average American watches four to five hours of TV a day. Watch half of that, and suddenly there will close to an extra 20 hours a week for college.
5. Cut back on social media. If one is a social media junkie, learn to cut back on that time and use that time for study. Post to social media when one will be studying per day so others will know. One might even find that people will encourage the studying!
6. Take a speed reading class. If a person can learn to read twice as fast, then one can spend less time reading. If it takes 1,000 hours of reading for the average undergraduate degree, then if one double’s their reading speed, it can save over two months (of eight hour days) of reading over the course of earning a degree.
7. Map out the degree. Before the ship sails, the Captain plots a course for the vessel to transit. The student needs to do the same with their education. Plan out the dates and sequence for every course to reach graduation. Once underway, progress has a way of encouraging people forward.
Students can find success by using one or multiple strategies together. It is recommended to use a number of different strategies for success, as relying upon just one can often lead to problems when an unexpected situation arises. For example, if one dedicates one day of the weekend to school and then one must travel for work over the weekend; one might find themselves behind or missing an assignment deadline. So, it is better to use a combination of the methods listed above so that if circumstances change, one does not find themselves in deep academic water without a paddle. Regardless of the strategy used, what is most important is consistently using them, year after year, until reaching the end goal of graduation.
By Dr. Robert Lee Gordon
Associate Professor, Reverse Logistics Management at American Public University