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Editor’s note: This is the second of two posts on how to successfully pursue an online college degree. The first was “3 Tips for Choosing a Great Online University.”
Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of people talking about the difficulty of online classes.They’ve been mostly educators or professional people I would consider well suited to academic pursuits.
Because I earned my degree from an online program and went to four different online colleges, I have a pretty good idea of what these people encountered in the classes they took.
While I found it challenging to earn my degree, it did not seem overwhelming to me. When I considered what the real challenges were, I became convinced that the hardships these people encountered were ones of time management and planning rather than academic ones.
Here are some of the steps I took that made my degree pursuit run smoothly.
1. Plan for success
Once you have chosen your university and enrolled, you will need a plan to succeed in your course work.
Take a close look at family needs, work schedule and classes. Make a plan for the time you will allot to schoolwork each day. Setting school hours and sticking to them will greatly increase the likelihood that you will complete all of your work and turn it in on time.
It is better to be a little rigid with this at the beginning of your classes until you can see what kind of time commitment each class actually requires. The requirements tend to vary, and each semester looks a little different.
When you have a pretty good grasp of what your requirements are for each week, it is easier to flex a little without throwing your whole schedule out of whack.
2. Include some wiggle room in your schedule
If your papers are usually due on Sunday at midnight, make a goal of completing your work for the week by Friday night. Unforeseen complications in completing a project are bound to come up when you’re juggling the demands of career, family and other classes. Even problems within an assignment can throw a carefully planned schedule into disarray.
I usually had no problem finding research materials for papers I was writing, but there were times when a source I was relying on turned out to be less than what I expected. Because I had a few extra days before the actual deadline, that was not a problem. If I had not allowed for that, I would have been turning in late papers and getting lower grades.
In a best-case scenario, you might even end up having some free time.
3. Carefully track and document your work
Probably the most helpful thing I did was to write down every single thing that needed to be completed for the week and check it off as I completed it and turned it in.
It is obvious that writing down assignments, quizzes and papers is necessary, but I even wrote down each time I was required to check in on a discussion board and complete a post or reply to a peer. The school I attended required a set number of times to participate each week, and carefully tracking them saved me from having to go back and count to be sure I had completed each post.
4. Make the best of the opportunities to interact with classroom peers
Completing all of your assignments on time and participating in an online environment will make your professors happy and improve your grades. Discussion board participation is especially important in an online learning situation. There is less opportunity to interact with peers face to face than in a traditional college experience, but a lot of interaction can occur on a discussion board.
Degree completion has never been as accessible as it is with today’s technological advances. By doing some simple research and planning, you can get a legitimate degree that will earn you credibility with employers.