Preparing For An Online Degree Program by Keith
The prospect of entering (or returning) to college can be a daunting challenge for most any adult, bringing anxiety and nervousness. From personal experience, I can attest that these feelings are compounded based on a fear of unknown circumstances and unfamiliar surroundings associated with online degree programs. Committing to the pursuit or completion of a degree via an online program is a significant first-step, but there are several preparations you can take that can increase the chances for success and alleviate the preparatory anxiety
First, if you have not already done so, begin familiarizing yourself with key productivity and online applications. Most of the schools offering online degree programs require the use of software currently in use (and accepted as “standard” in the personal and business computing environment). Microsoft Office applications are some of the most common applications in use, though compatibility improvements between applications will allow the use other software products if you so desire. Access to an Internet Service Provider (ISP) is also an essential tool; I would suggest that you use a high-speed Internet connection if at all possible, as this will improve connectivity and minimize the time spent in downloading course materials and uploading assignments. You should have at least one email account through your ISP. From personal experience, I would suggest establishing a separate email account for school-related correspondence, as this will prevent inbox clutter and ensure that critical school-related correspondence will not be lost or overlooked. This will also help in controlling unwanted (spam) emails in this account, as you can set up the email client to accept correspondence from known sources.
If you have not done so already, familiarize yourself with newsgroup or static list service formats. Some schools offer real-time chat environments for interaction and lectures, but many more utilize some form of list or forum service to organize and disseminate course discussions and materials. The specifics will vary greatly among schools, so the best advice would be to study tutorials or demo modules before selecting an online-degree program, and certainly before beginning the first course once a school and program has been selected
Though not unique to online degree programs, mental preparation is a critical ingredient towards success. College coursework is markedly different from previous academic experiences, requiring discipline, time-management, and a commitment to allocating time and effort on a daily basis. Unlike traditional programs, online degree programs are often conducted in intense, short bursts, ranging from 5-6 weeks up to an entire semester. On-campus students often attend class for several hours a week, and spend off-campus time completing assignments and reading materials. Online programs require complete self-discipline; just because attendance at a physical building is not required does not absolve you of these challenges and responsibilities.
Finally, and perhaps most important, is to prepare contingency plans. Natural events, construction accidents, and even routine maintenance can disrupt your Internet connections, which is your sole lifeline to your classroom. Having a contingency plan in place to allow for limited connectivity in the event that you experience an Internet outage can be the difference between a successful online degree experience and one filled with frustration and failure. Online degree programs are often conducted at a faster pace than brick-and-mortar counterparts, so a disruption of a day or two can lead to disastrous consequences. I maintained a dial-up Internet account for those “just in case” situations and I used this fallback on several occasions.
Online degree programs are a reality today, and the quality of education offered by reputable schools mirrors that of traditional programs. With proper preparation, the learning experience can be enjoyable and productive for online degree seekers, and can lead towards a rewarding learning experience. The ingredients from success may differ from the preparations required by traditional students, but all higher-learning programs share the common elements of planning, discipline, and commitment.