Posted in Being an Online Student

Why You Should Talk to Your Professor if You’re Struggling in Class

One of the most common things that I see with online students is that when they are in a time of crisis, or even just struggling with a concept in class, they often do not reach out to their professor. They’ll call their advisor, or whoever they feel closest to at their school, and ask for help from them instead.

An advisor, admissions counselor, or other university/college representative typically cannot, and, most of the time, should not, be involved in your classwork. Advisors can help connect you to university resources, assist with academic appeals (if needed), and can visit with you about the things you are going through but they cannot change a grade, teach you a concept, or decide to allow you to submit late work- that’s what your professor is for!

It’s important to remember that professors are there to help you learn. They are not in the business of judging you for failing to understand a concept or for having a family emergency.  Remember, while the professor knows the material well- after all, they typically have an advanced degree in the topic- it’s okay to need a little extra help if you don’t understand. If you were already an expert, you wouldn’t need to be in school! Additionally, if you have a legitimate reason for struggling to keep up with coursework, a good professor isn’t going to judge you for that. Remember, your professor is human and a lot of students experience setbacks. It’s okay!

What isn’t okay is letting yourself struggle without talking to your instructor. A lot of the students I hear from are concerned that the instructor will judge them or see them as “not tough enough” for school if they need help. I have not met a professor who does not care or doesn’t want to hear from a student when they are in need. Most professors care deeply about their students and want to see them succeed. That’s typically why they became an instructor in the first place. Additionally, your instructor doesn’t know what’s going on if you don’t tell them and, truthfully, they’re going to judge you a lot more harshly if they have to guess why you are missing so many assignments/class sessions. Put yourself in their shoes- would you feel more compassion for the person at work whose mother just passed away or the person who is chronically late with assignments, but you just assume is lazy because they’ve never told you otherwise?

During the course of a semester, I hear from a large number of students who are experiencing difficulty for one reason or another. Approximately 90% of the time, these students have not spoken with their professor- which is a mistake. As an academic advisor, I’m going to refer you to the professor for questions or concerns about their individual course. In fact, at the university I work for, I am required to do this.

Communication with your professor is extremely important. So, next time you find yourself struggling in a class, experiencing an unexpected outside event, or experiencing difficulty completing coursework, notify your professor!



Posted in Being an Online Student

Three Creative Ways to Study for Exams

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There are a lot of study tips for finals available on the Internet. Most suggest that students get plenty of rest, eat well and exercise, among other things. While it is extremely important to take care of yourself during finals, these tips don’t actually help with studying the material.

Committing principles learned in the classroom to memory for the exam always gave me anxiety. As an online student, you often don’t have the luxury or the time to sit down with a tutor or group of other students so you have to get a bit creative. The three study tips that I’ve listed below are tricks that I actually used in school to successfully pass my exams.

Link Concepts to Song Lyrics/Movie Quotes

I always joke with people that if I could remember math formulas as well as I can remember movie quotes and song lyrics, I’d be much better off in life. I decided to use this to my advantage. When facing a touch concept, I found that if I sang a song about it or changed a movie quote slightly to fit it, I was able to remember it much better. While my proctors often thought I was a bit crazy as I sang songs to myself and giggled (mostly silently), it was very effective for helping me remember the concepts.

Chew Gum

While some testing centers will not allow it, I always tried to chew gum both before and during an exam. In a study, researchers at St Lawrence University found that chewing gum helped students with recall and memory tasks for a short period of time. The act of chewing wakes the brain up and increases blood flow.

Many of my friends and colleagues also swear that you should always chew the same flavor of gum while you’re studying and while you’re taking the exam. The idea is that you may remember the flavor that you were chewing while you were studying. I always did this as well. Chewing gum won’t allow you to bypass studying for your exam, but it could help you remember some of the concepts.

Spaced Repetition

Spaced repetition is a powerful tool for remembering information. While many of us will study information over and over again with little to no breaks, especially when we are cramming for an exam, spaced repetition, or repeating information after short breaks in time, has been proven to be more a more effective way to remember.

This YouTube video by Thomas Frank helps illustrate how to use spaced repetition when studying. Mr. Frank recommends using flash cards to study. Instead of flash cards, I always created a study guide for myself in Word as I was reading chapters and reviewed them a few times per week. No matter how you prefer to study, spacing out your study time can help you remember what you studied and make you a much more successful student.

Do you have other creative ways to memorize information? What are your favorite study tips? List them below in the comments!



Posted in Being an Online Student

Two Ways to Deepen Your Understanding of Course Material

One of the many fears that online students have is that they won’t learn the material as well as they would have in a face to face environment. Unfortunately, this is a very common misconception. While online students may not physically come to class each day, there are a lot of ways to help the material “stick” better and deepen your understanding of course content. Two of my favorite ways to deepen my understanding of course material is to apply it to my life and to discuss with other students.

The best way that I found to learn the material I was being taught in school was to apply it to my real life. For example, in one of my operations management courses, we were asked to discuss how a company could improve its supply chain operations. While many students chose companies like Southwest Airlines or Coca Cola, I chose to study my own company. The project wasn’t nearly as flashy as the other student’s, but I was able to apply the principles from my class to my job and it helped the material make more sense to me. Every time we learned a new concept that was somewhat difficult for me, I tried to tie it something either at work, at home or something that I knew a lot about. This helped significantly when I was trying to learn course material.

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Another great way to deepen your understanding of course material is to chat with other students about it. Many online classes offer discussion boards where students can discuss course material or share external resources with each other. Unfortunately, many people either forget that this exists, or choose not to utilize it. Using the discussion board to ask questions, share articles about the topic you are studying and to start a discussion with other students can help a lot with learning material. In my classes, if one person took the plunge and started a discussion in the discussion board, other students were pretty responsive. The problem was that no one wanted to initiate the conversation! Other options are to reach out to people via email, set up social media/texting groups or video chat with others. It’s not impossible to have a discussion in an online course- you just have to be willing to try!

Do you have any tips to help yourself learn course material better in your online courses? Please share your favorite tips in the comments!

Posted in Being an Online Student

Do You Know Your Financial Aid Limits?

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Did you know that federal financial aid has both annual and lifetime limits? It’s true! So, before you run out of federal aid each semester (or permanently), make sure you know what your limits are!

Federal financial aid is designed to be a supplement to pay for school, but it’s not necessarily intended to cover every expense that a student may have. Therefore, planning ahead, knowing what aid you’re eligible for, and understanding how much you may need to pay for school out of pocket before fees are due is critical. It won’t always be covered 100% by federal aid.

Every student is offered a different aid package based on their financial situation and each type of aid you are eligible to receive has different annual limits. You should submit a FAFSA and send it to your school each year to avoid delays in receiving aid. A FAFSA is also typically required when applying for scholarships within your college or university- especially if the scholarship requires that you demonstrate financial need, so it’s a good idea to submit it early. You can check annual limits for federal aid on the Federal Student Aid website. The Aid at a Glance page is a great way to find available financial aid types, descriptions about awards, and annual limits.

According to the Federal Student Aid website, the current lifetime loan limit for dependent undergraduate students is $31,000 and for independent undergraduates, it is $57,500. For graduate students, the lifetime limit is currently $138,500. While this seems like plenty of money, it can add up very quickly. It’s important to know what your aid limits are, and the amount of money you’ve borrowed, so that you can manage your money effectively.

While private loans are an option for students who run out of federal funds, I personally do not endorse using private loans. Private lenders do not necessarily have to follow the same rules that the federal government does and it makes me nervous to take out private loans. Instead, I recommend making sure that you stay within your federal loan limits and pay out of pocket for school as much as possible. Knowing your limits each year is the best way to make sure that you are balancing your budget!



Posted in Being an Online Student

The Most Surprising Thing About Being an Online Student

One of my favorite parts of being a face to face student was the social interaction component. I always met a variety of interesting and exciting people while in my undergraduate classes and I always had someone that I could talk to and interact with. When I became an online student, I thought that there was no way that I would have any social interaction with others since I was 2,000 miles away from other students. As it turns out, this could not have been further from the truth!


What I didn’t immediately realize as an online MBA student was that the dreaded group projects that I had hated throughout my undergraduate career were still required, even in an online setting. While in hindsight this wasn’t terribly surprising, what surprised me the most about being an online student was the strong relationships that I was able to build with other students in the online environment, specifically with those in my groups for group projects.

Instead of face to face meetings, my teammates and I were constantly speaking to each other via email, text, group chat platforms like GroupMe or Google Hangouts, and even through social media. Most of my peers were working full-time like I was so we had to be creative with how we interacted. This constant interaction, and knowing that everyone else was fighting extremely hard to balance work, life, and school, created a sense of responsibility amongst teammates to complete their work. While there was still the occasional slacker here and there, I was fortunate to have many wonderful teammates.

In addition to teammates, my program has a social media presence that helped me create relationships with others. The Facebook page for our program allows students to ask for advice or assistance, provide tips and tricks to others, and even share personal victories/fears with all students in the program. It is a great way to meet like-minded individuals and I am amazed by the level of positive interaction that goes on on that page. There is a strong sense of camaraderie and support from other students.


I was extremely surprised that being an online student did not deter me from making friends or networking. In fact, some of the relationships I created in my MBA program are stronger than the relationships made during my undergraduate degree. I am still in contact with a number of students that I met in the program, despite having graduated almost a year ago.

My biggest piece of advice in this regard is don’t be afraid to reach out to other students and make connections. Whether you are an online student, or a face to face student, you can create strong relationships. Online gives you the advantage of making connections all across the country (in some cases, the world) and industries. While you have to be a willing to make an effort, if you do, it will pay off in the long run.