For working professionals who want to earn a college degree, the appeal of online classes is obvious. With an online class, you have the flexibility to study on your own schedule and find your own work, school and personal balance.
Earning a degree can open doors and help you reach your professional and personal goals. If you are considering jumping in, here are several steps you can take to prepare for class — and garner the support you will need to succeed.
1. Be persistent in your studies
When you take an in-person class, you have to make a firm commitment to your studies. You have to show up to your classes at particular times of the day. Seeing the professor each class session also helps to hold you accountable. Online programs offer significantly more flexibility, which is one of the reasons that people find the classes so appealing. But if you do not make a full commit to the class, it is also easy to put off listening to a class or completing an assignment.
To be successful in your degree program, you will need to be resolved to “go to class” no matter what. Just as you would show up for an in-person class, pledge to attend each online class to get the full value of the course.
When you’re on campus and in the classroom, you interact directly with your professor and classmates, which can help you stay focused on learning and successfully completing your coursework. As an online student, you’ll need to find ways to motivate yourself to attend classes and complete assignments in a timely manner. Creating visual reminders of your upcoming tasks and making a conscious commitment to the class can keep you moving forward.
2. Develop your time management skills
Adult students who also have jobs and outside commitments know that fulfilling their obligations requires a considerable amount of balancing. Time management makes it possible.
The first step to successfully manage your time will be to implement a calendar. Some students use a digital calendar that they can sync with their various devices. Others prefer a physical calendar that they can hang over their desk or have next to the computer. Regardless of your preference, you should begin the class by noting all the important tasks — exams, quizzes, presentations, assignments, etc. — you will encounter throughout the course. This will help you plan ahead and make a schedule that will allow you to complete everything in a timely manner.
Your calendar should also take into account your personal schedule. If you know you have a big trip coming up, see how that aligns with your assignment and study schedule. Planning ahead will help keep you from getting derailed by external circumstances.
Once you create a calendar with the major events, outline your study schedule. Consider blocking off a few hours each day that you will spend on your class. You can then create a schedule for each week and what tasks you want to use this time to accomplish. Use this block to attend classes, study for exams and complete your assignments.
As you progress in your course, check your calendar to see how well you have kept to your schedule and if any adjustments need to be made.
3. Corner off a space in your house for studying
When you decide to take an online class, figure out where you will complete your studies. Think about the environment where you work best. For example, a lot of people will find that working in a quiet area without many distractions helps them. This might involve clearing out a home office, setting up a desk in a bedroom or working at the kitchen table. Others may discover that they do their best work while in a coffee shop, where they find the regular movement of people and the steady supply of caffeine an advantage.
Make it a habit to go to this space whenever the time comes to do your schoolwork. This routine will help you remain focused on the task at hand.
4. Actively engage in additional learning opportunities
Like many online schools and universities, ACU Online will reach out to students who fall behind in their studies or miss classes. They will email, text or even call to find ways to help students overcome obstacles to educational success. But there are ways to ensure you stay actively engaged in your classes from the very beginning.
For example, you can treat your online class as if it were on campus. Make an extra effort to participate in the online class chats to interact with your classmates. If your classmates organize online study groups, join one. If the professor sets up a discussion board as a platform for students to further review the material, then ask questions and participate in conversations. The more you interact with your professors and fellow students, the easier it will be to view this class as a traditional class and feel accountable with regard to your assignments, attendance and exams.
5. Set a realistic school schedule
For a working professional, deciding to go back to school can be an incredibly rewarding and challenging decision. It can feel overpowering for prospective students who are unsure how they will balance all of their different tasks.
But don’t let it stop you from achieving your educational goals. Look for a program that allows students to study at a work-friendly pace, maybe part time. For example, at ACU Online, our students only attend one class at a time. This lets students work, step-by-step, through their degree program. That way, you will not have to worry about overscheduling and overwhelming yourself at any point during your program.
6. Plan for the support you will need
Having support from those around you can provide you with a tremendous advantage while completing your degree program. This support can help you better balance your time and ensure that all your obligations are met.
Depending upon your relationship with your employer, consider letting them know about the classes you will take. Having an open relationship with your employer can help if you ever need to leave a few minutes early for a study group or need additional hours to study.
You also want to work with your spouse or partner. Develop a schedule with them that allows you to free up time for studying. If you have chores that you can outsource or that they can cover while you learn — cooking dinner, mowing the lawn, laundry, etc. — this will aid in reducing your stress and making it easier to manage the time needed for school.
7. Take care of your little learners
Finally, many students returning to school also have children. Make sure you have childcare set up with backup plans before the start of the semester. You do not want to miss assignments or find yourself losing the motivation to stay on your schedule because childcare falls through right before your final exam. If finding the funds for childcare is a struggle, consider non-traditional options, such as trading hours with a friend watching each other’s children or scheduling your study time later when the children are in bed.
Getting started with your online degree might feel intimidating but taking the time to plan for the classes and setting yourself up for success can make it possible to jump in and start to achieve your dreams.
Don’t wait another day. If you always dreamed about completing your degree, register for your classes on ACU online.