Posted in Getting Started Online

Three Important Tasks to Complete Prior to the First Day of Online School

pen-calendar-to-do-checklist.jpgThe first day of school can be stressful for any student. However, for an online student, it can be even more stressful. Instead of sitting in classroom listening to the instructor review expectations for the course and discuss next steps, online students are often provided with little to no guidance when a course starts. There is little time to spend getting acquainted with the course structure or the professor and, oftentimes, course instruction begins right away. This can be extremely stressful. To help start the semester off right, there are three important steps that I recommend every online student do to prepare themselves for the semester before it starts.

1- Review the Syllabus and the Course Once Available

I know that no one wants to start coursework before it is absolutely necessary, but to avoid significant stress, it’s important to review the course syllabus and the course itself prior to the first day of class and write down important dates. This helps for a few reasons. The first is that by reviewing the course and the syllabus, there aren’t going to be any surprises for you on the first day because you already know what to expect. The second is that it allows you to practice with the learning management system and acquaint yourself with the way the professor has set up the class. Additionally, if you have a conflict with a scheduled course due date, it gives you time to prepare- especially if the assignment is due very soon after the semester starts- and it helps you organize yourself before you have things due.

Most professors open their courses in the learning management system at least 24-48 hours prior to the semester starting, and some will do it even earlier than that so that students have time to prepare.

2- Practice With the Learning Management System

The learning management system (i.e. Blackboard, Canvas, etc) is the system that houses all coursework for your online class. These systems, while relatively user friendly, can be difficult to navigate at first and contain a significant amount of content. Therefore, it is extremely important that you know how to use it prior to class start. Failing to practice with the technology you will be using prior to the start of class is a recipe for disaster. Instead of being focused on your homework and course content, you’ll be trying to learn the technology, which can make you fall behind. If you need help, ask your advisor, program coordinator, student success coach, or other contact for advice. He/she should be able to direct you to the appropriate resources so that you can practice using the technology ahead of time.

3- Plan Your Time for Coursework

Many online students fail to understand how time consuming their online courses can be. Don’t assume that just because they are “flexible” that you won’t need to work hard and dedicate significant time to your courses. It is extremely important to map out your time before class starts. Be realistic about it too. If your advisor says that you need to be prepared to dedicate 30-40 hours per week to class, they really mean it! Saying that you’re going to work 60+ hours and dedicate 40 hours per week to online school while also having a family life and volunteering for your favorite charity isn’t realistic. Remember, you have to eat, sleep and have some sort of social life. Planning how you will spend your time on a calendar helps you remember those important things and will help you determine how much time you really have to dedicate to school. If you can’t find the time in your daily schedule for the estimated time needed for school, either reduce your credit load or cut something out. There is no way you’ll be able to balance everything.

Doing these three simple tasks ahead of time will help you feel less stress when class starts and will set you up for success in your online courses. It’s important to make sure that you are well-prepared prior to the first day of class so that you can start your semester off right.

What tips and tricks have you used to prepare yourself for a successful semester?

Posted in Getting Started Online

Five Things to Do When Choosing an Online Program

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Choosing an online program can be difficult. Online education is very popular right now, which means that there are a lot of options available to choose from. So, how do you choose the best program when there are so many out there?

1- Know what your goals are

While it seems obvious, it’s important to know what you are hoping to get out of the program you are choosing before contacting schools that you are interested in. Do you eventually want to go on and earn another degree? Are you hoping to be licensed in your field? Do you want to change fields?

Knowing what you want can help you narrow down your choices and make sure that you are picking the right program for your needs. A lot of students start their search for a program without really knowing what they want out of it and then become discouraged when they don’t find a good fit. Know what you want before you start your search and you’ll be more likely to find a program that fits your needs.

2- Start Searching

There are thousands of online degree options to choose from and it can be hard to find the best program. A good place to start is with in-state university or community colleges to see if the degree you want is available there. While fees are becoming more competitive among online schools, sometimes local universities and community colleges are still the cheapest option. If a local school does not have an online option for the degree you are searching for, you can ask if they have any recommendations or if they know of any schools that do offer the program you’re looking for.

Another option is to search any of the “Best of” lists available. Do a quick Google search for the “Best online ____ degree” and you’ll be sure to find rankings. It’s important to know that some schools pay to be featured in these “Best of” lists so make sure that you’re looking at a reputable source. Ranking sites like USA Today and the Princeton Review are good places to start.

Asking friends and family for their recommendations can also be a good place to start. Do you have a family member who attended school online and loved it? Ask where they went to school. They may be able to offer some recommendations.

Informational interviews with people who are in a position you want to be in can also provide some insight into what schools to look at and, possibly, which accreditation(s) to look for. If your field requires licensure, this is especially useful. Making sure that the program you choose will get you where you want to go is extremely important. Plus, getting to know a professional in your field can offer a valuable mentorship relationship. Most professionals are open to helping others, you just have to be willing to ask for it.

3- Check Accreditation

Making sure that the online school you are looking at is accredited is extremely important. Be sure to determine whether a school is regionally or nationally accredited before attending. Both types of accreditation are fine, depending on what your goals are. Regional accreditation is considered more rigorous and many schools will only accept credits from regionally accredited institutions. As mentioned above, make sure you know what your goals are to ensure that you don’t end up earning a degree that will hinder your future goals.

If you are hoping to gain licensure after your degree, make sure you know what your state boards require regarding accreditation. Check with your individual state board to determine the specific accreditation that is required for your field. For example, social work boards typically require accreditation from the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE) and engineering boards typically require accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). If you don’t have a degree from an accredited institution, typically, you will be unable to gain professional licensure.

4- Ask for Help

It’s okay to ask for help when you need it! While representatives from online schools are trying to recruit you when you call or email them, and you should keep this in mind when speaking with them, it’s okay to ask for help if you are confused or need assistance. Never feel uncomfortable asking for help understanding. It’s better to make sure you fully understand the program you are entering and what will be expected of you before you start classes and find that it isn’t a good fit.

You can, and should, ask for help from family members, coworkers, friends and colleagues who have experience with online education too. Remember, everyone was a beginner at some point! Ask them for things they wish they’d know when they were looking at schools so that you’re able to ask better questions when you speak to a representative.

5- Review Tuition and Fees

Make sure you have a full understanding of the tuition and fees that you will be charged before making a final decision. Sometimes a tuition rate will appear to be very low, but then the school will charge online access fees, out of state tuition, or other special fees, making the costs much higher. Before you get in a financial bind, make sure you know what you’re paying for!