For countless Americans, obtaining a college degree is an essential rite of passage. From 1965 to 2016, total college enrollment throughout the United States increased by 240 percent.
But in the digital age, there are more ways to learn than ever before. There are many college students who opt to pursue their education online instead of in classrooms. In fact, data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that over 5.9 million students enrolled in distance education courses at degree-granting post secondary institutions in 2015.
That said, online degree programs do require greater amounts of accountability and may differ in some ways from traditional college programs. Here are five tips to help you prepare for an online degree program.
Choose your program wisely
Online learning can make going to college far more accessible for millions of students. But you need to be just as discerning when choosing an online degree program as you would when choosing a brick-and-mortar program at a college. You probably wouldn’t pledge your allegiance to the first university you ever toured, so you want to conduct ample research into your choice of online learning program too.
You should first confirm that your program of choice is accredited. This essentially means that the programs at this institution meet minimum standards put forth by private agencies. Although unaccredited college programs do often give out diplomas and certifications, these schools may do so for a simple fee, and not due to any hard work on your end. Unaccredited schools may not provide you with the education you seek, and worse, your future employer may not recognize your diploma from an unaccredited school, which makes it more difficult for you to find work.
Once you zero in on an accredited college, you need to choose a specific program. Keep in mind that even if online courses are offered, that doesn’t always mean the entire program will be available entirely online. Be sure to find out whether you can complete all the requirements online (or if you can comply with any on-campus requirements).
In addition, you want to feel confident that the type of degree you’ll pursue lines up with your ultimate goals. Many colleges have numerous online options available, from an online liberal arts associates degree to a master’s degree in science. Carefully examine the type of coursework involved in each type of degree and its educational focus.
Expect the same amount of work
When you first heard about online learning, you might have assumed that this system would be a breeze compared to traditional colleges and universities. But that’s really not true at all. Although online degree programs do offer a greater amount of flexibility, the actual workload involved is equivalent to what you’d experience if you pursued classroom learning.
Keep in mind that by having more flexibility, you’ll also have to be more accountable than the average student. In some ways, your educational endeavors will be much harder to achieve because you’ll be expected to complete them with all the distractions and challenges that accompany off-campus learning.
When you live in an apartment or home, work part-time or even full-time, and have to juggle family responsibilities in addition to your educational pursuits, that’s a real challenge for most people. It will be completely up to you to buckle down and get the work done, often without the built-in support that other students take for granted.
Manage your connections and your time
If you want to be successful in an online degree program, you need to become a master of your schedule and your devices. You will not achieve your goals if you’re using an unreliable internet connection or you can’t get the hang of the technological platforms you need. And you won’t be able to handle the commitment of online classes if you don’t make your education a real priority.
You might have some room to play with due to a more flexible schedule, but that doesn’t mean you can let your classwork fall by the wayside. You need to zero in on your time management skills, get yourself a planner, and follow a specific schedule to keep from falling behind. Although you can theoretically complete the coursework in a more convenient way, many online classes do require you to submit work and take exams within a certain timeframe. If you allow yourself to fall behind, it will be very difficult to catch up.
The way you study and the way you access your learning portal will matter a lot, too. In order to learn online, you need a quiet place to focus on your studies. That can be tough to come by, especially in a busy household, but it’s essential for your success. In addition to finding a quiet study spot, you’ll need to acquaint yourself with the platform used by your degree program and make sure your technology meets all of the program’s requirements. Outdated technology may not be sufficient and unreliable internet connections may make it impossible for you to do what’s being asked of you.
One more point: don’t be afraid to use these tools to make connections with your peers and your teachers. Their guidance may prove priceless during the pursuit of your degree. You may be learning online, but that doesn’t mean that your educational experience has to be isolating. In fact, you’ll probably feel far more motivated to excel if you’re able to create bonds with others and reach out for assistance.