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How to Survive Going to College Online

How to Survive Going to College Online

By Katie McBeth

I finally made the dive back into schooling. Grad school was calling my name, and I reluctantly signed up. Luckily, in this day and age, I have the ultimate convenience of online education. I can learn “on-the-go,” so to speak.

The seemingly easy convenience to online education is a major lure, but – at the same time – so many doubts filled my head before I hit the ‘apply’ button.

“Am I missing out on a great education by taking it online?”

“Are the Professors going to be able to answer my questions if I’m not in class raising my hand?”

“What if I forget to do my homework on time?”

“What if this hurts my job prospects because no one will take an ‘online degree’ seriously?!?”

So I started digging, and what I found is that I am not alone in this worry. Students all over the U.S. are passing up online classes simply because they’re not sure it’s the right fit for them.

And it’s very true. Online education isn’t for everyone. But I did find that it can work for anyone that is willing to give it a try.

The Benefits of the Chat Room

When it came to seeking advice in online learning, the most common tip was always the chat room. And it makes sense. It is essentially your classroom. Even if the students aren’t all there around the same time, the chat holds all the questions and answers to your course. You can even search for specific questions! It’s like everyone is writing notes for you! (Note: I still suggest keeping and writing your own notes…)

Not only that, but participating in the chat room discussions is often a portion of your grade. The more posts, the merrier your grade!

I find the forums for my classes are not just a wonderful source of information, but a lot less anxiety-filled than raising my hand in class. As a woman, it was common for me to get talked over in group discussions, and as an anxious adult, I find it hard for me to even try to talk in public from time to time. Chat rooms, in that way, were my saving grace. I could post questions without drawing attention, and could actually make statements that added to the conversation – instead of getting ignored.

Of course, my experience is different than others, and some people enjoy the instant gratification of asking a teacher questions during class. Find Your Context, a site dedicated to online education, suggested three different ways to “raise your hand” in an online class setting:

  1. Create a new discussion board thread (if someone hasn’t answered your question elsewhere – this helps other people in the class, too!)
  2. Participate in virtual chat sessions (these might be on a set schedule, though, so be aware of when they are hosted.)
  3. Email your TA or Professor directly (I’ve experienced this, along with friends: online professors are more likely to answer emails, since that is their main form of communication with students. It never hurts to reach out and ask, just remember to stay professional!)

These solutions might not be instantaneous, but they can lead to some enlightening conversations. Studies have shown that sharing ideas through writing can often be more productive than through verbal brainstorming. It’s called “brainwriting” and I’m already 100% onboard with the idea. Sharing ideas silently, no worries about being talked over? Count me in!

Use ALL the Helpful Tools

The second most common tip I came across was time management.

Schedule everything.

Use all the tools.

Don’t make the mistake of assuming you will remember when the test is. Be safe and add reminders to your phone, write it down, or use helpful apps to send you alerts.

Whatever helps you remember best, use that method! And plan your time accordingly. Make sure to not just schedule the important dates, but your small homework and chat times, too. Time management is still something I’m working on daily, but I’ve found resources that really help me.

Asana is a planning app that helps me map out my week, month, or even semester. It’s free and easy, and I can sort everything into classes, priority, and due date. Other planning apps are out there too, like Trello (which is often used for writing – I’ve used it for blog posts a few times).

These apps aren’t just useful for your own self-awareness, but can be used in teams too. Have a group project coming up? Have everyone sign up for a free account and delegate tasks. Use messenger apps like Slack to hold group conversations. You get the idea: there’s a lot out there to help you, and most of it is free.

The Image of the Online School is Changing

That last hurdle to tackle is the stigma. Many people assume (wrongfully) that if you’re getting an online education it’s easy, or it’s an unaccredited school program.

I grew up in the age of seeing “University of Phoenix” commercials on every channel, and still commonly hear radio ads for technical programs or “for-profit” schools. When people hear “online university” they often jump to those conclusions: for-profit, easy, and not a real degree.

For-profit schools are their own beast, but a large majority of state-run (public) universities are jumping on the online education train. Arizona State University is one of the most notable, and is well known for their ongoing research activity (and for being a part of the PAC-12 Conference).

The idea of what an online education entails is slowly changing. It’s not a sham, but it’s definitely not the same as your traditional brick and mortar classroom.

Jay Halfond, a profession and Dean with the Online Graduate Program in Management at Boston University, is commonly writing about the important differences between online and in-person classrooms. He often is warning teachers and school leaders to not look at them through the same lens, but analyze online and in-person and two very different options. But Halfond sees the benefit to online education as well, and is leading the way to helping other universities see the advantage:

“When used well, this technology can help build bridges between students and their professors, enrich the educational experience, and leverage full-time faculty so they have far greater impact on learning. Education can become continuous, and less episodic. Rather than ships passing on the campus, students and faculty can be constantly engaged with one another.”

Soon this understand might bleed out into the non-academic world, and prospecting students and businesses that are hiring them will see the benefit of online school.

I’m hoping that will happen by the time I wrap up my degree, but that might be wishful thinking on my part.

Either way, I’ve found that online college can work for me, if I’m willing to make some adjustments in the way I go about my day. With a full time job on the side and college over the weekends, it’s going to be tough. But I am lucky that I have the tools and motivation to keep my going.


Online college can be worth it, if only you give it a try!


About Katiekatie mcbethKatie McBeth is a Freelance writer out of Boise, ID. She is an intersectional feminist, owner of a small private zoo, and can occasionally be found at music festivals cheering on her favorite indie acts. You can follow her animal and writing adventures on Instagram or Twitter: @ktmcbeth.

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