Earning a College Degree in an Online World

Thinking of going back to school but dread the thought of sitting in a classroom for hours at a time?  Are you a full-time worker with a family who just doesn’t know how to squeeze a college education into your already busy life?    If so, then the online college experience is definitely for you.

As an online student for the past ten years or so, earning both a Bachelor’s and Master’s Degree, and currently preparing for a second Master’s, I have seen the successes and failures of many of my classmates in the online environment.    They sign up for an online program thinking it will be an easy way to get a degree, when in fact, the online venue is perhaps the most difficult way of earning a degree.  Unfortunately, there are “diploma mills” all over the place – institutions that will give you a passing grade no matter what just to give you the diploma.  But if you find a reputable college that offers online classes, do yourself a favor and take that step; I promise you won’t regret it and will discover parts of yourself you didn’t know were there.

During my own journey, I discovered many things about myself – things other people told me I had, but I never allowed myself to see.  I’ve put together a list of what I believe to be the top five traits needed to succeed in the online environment.  If you don’t have them when you begin, I promise you will by the time you get that diploma.

1.     Drive – If you are going to make the most out of this method of learning you have got to WANT to learn. Don’t just take classes thinking you’ll breeze through – trust me, you won’t.  But you have to be willing to work hard and put in the time to earn that degree.

2.     A Set Schedule – This will be difficult at first as you will have to find your niche within your daily/weekly schedule. All online classes have both an attendance and participation requirement; for example, you are given two to three weekly discussion questions that you must respond to by a specific day or days in the week.  You then have until the end of the class week to respond to at least two of your classmates.   A response must consist of “critical thought” – you will be told this in every class until you are tired of hearing it, but you’d be surprise how many of your classmates try to get by with as little as possible.  You will also have some type of written assignment or quiz – possibly both, depending on the class that will usually be due on the final day of the week; therefore it will take you some time to figure out how to work this additional responsibility into your life.

3.     Commitment – In case you haven’t figured it out yet, commitment is a BIGGIE when it comes to online learning. Unlike traditional brick and mortar colleges, you are not physically surrounded by students and a professor encouraging and at times pushing you to do the work. This time it’s all on you and there is no one else to blame if the work isn’t done.

4.     An Open Mind – You are going to meet all kinds of students in an online environment ranging from kids just out of high school to adults will families and full-time jobs to military personnel. I even had a class where one of my classmates was 71 years old!  Yes, 71 and she kept up with all of us!  You will be exposed to different cultures, ethnicities, religions, genders and sexual orientations in the online world; therefore, acceptance of others is key and if you don’t already, you will learn to understand everyone’s opinions and differences.

5.     Belief in yourself – This was a biggie for me, as obtaining a college degree, especially with the discipline required for this path, made me feel that adrenaline of accomplishment. You have to see yourself do it and know that you have what it takes to do this on your own.  It will not be an easy road, but you will be thankful and if that belief wasn’t there before, it will be when you are done.

As I said this will not be easy; it is not a walk in the park and if you are expecting to log into class and do a half-ass job, you will be sorely disappointed.   You might as well toss your money – along with yourself – out the window because that is exactly would you’d be doing – throwing your money and your future away.   However, if you take the experience seriously, do the work and create the friendships that are inevitably formed during college life, you will have tools to help you in your next phase in life – no matter where you go.

Coming Up Next….What does a typical class week look like and how do I get through it?


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