There are both pros and cons when it comes to studying online. Remote degree programs make it easier for many students to graduate, especially if they have other commitments such as work or caring for family members. Students can benefit from a more flexible study schedule and can also save time and money by avoiding a regular commute. However, there is also the challenge of staying motivated, energized and organized so that you can stay the course and complete your degree. Here are a few ways to stay on track and ensure you finish your online degree program.
Choose the right program, and courses
One key to staying on track with your online degree is something that happens in the planning stages, way before the first day of class. It’s vital to choose the right program for you and the right courses within that program if you’re going to be motivated to work hard and complete your degree. Understandably, you’re probably doing a degree to increase your career prospects, but make sure you’re on the right career path and have picked a program you’re really interested in and committed to
If your program comes with a choice of options or electives, do some research and make sure you pick the courses that not only work for you in terms of your future career, but also your interests and passions. Staying on track with your studies is so much easier when you are actually interested in what you are studying, and this is even more vital with online study, as you don’t have the motivation of regular face-to-face interaction with your instructors and classmates.
Preparation is vital
Be prepared, especially when taking a non-traditional route. Some online degree programs may be designed around an intensive, accelerated course of study, while some programs are designed for people who do not necessarily have the qualifications normally required. For example, most campus-based Master’s of Social Work (MSW) programs require you to have completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Work (BSW). Some online providers, such as Florida State University, offer an online MSW program that is open to candidates that do not have a BSW.
This may be convenient for students but means that most will benefit from extra preparation, such as reading around the subject more or carrying out extra research in the field, before starting the program. This will help you familiarize yourself with the areas of study and topics you will cover. It never hurts to prepare in advance for a degree, looking through the textbooks and other recommended readings, maybe subscribing to relevant journals or starting to listen to related podcasts. The more you immerse yourself in your field of study, the broader your knowledge will become and the easier you will find your studies. Before your program starts is also a good time to brush up on other skills you might need such as academic writing and note taking.
Invest in the right technology
It can be frustrating to be constantly dealing with tech issues, and it can really set you back in your studies if things aren’t running smoothly for you. Check the minimum computer requirements for your degree program and make sure the devices you are using will meet them. Ensure your internet connection is sufficient and double check all your log-in details so that you will be able to join online classes and meet-ups easily.
It’s also a good idea to make sure you know your way around the program’s online system. Do you know where to find your readings and assignments, how to submit work and how to access the online library and other facilities and resources your education provider has available to you? Do you know the contact details of your instructors? And lastly, do you know who to contact about technical difficulties? Aim to finish any required upgrades to your equipment before your program starts and take a little time to upgrade your own computer skills if you are lacking in them or if they’re a little rusty.
Know your study habits
Developing good study habits will help you stay on track in your degree, but first it can be helpful to know what your natural study habits are. Do you study best early in the morning or late into the night? Do you like the peace and quiet of a library or the background bustle of a coffee shop? Do you have favorite study spaces, at home or out in your community, where you find it easier to concentrate? Do you study best in silence or with background music? Do you need hours to get into a topic or do you work best in quick bursts, with regular breaks? Do you need a separate room or dedicated study space set up to study at home? Most people find this helpful, but depending on your circumstances, it may or may not be possible.
Once you’ve identified how, where and when you study best, you’ll find it easier to draw up a study schedule that works for you, allows you to be efficient and keeps you on track with your studies. As your program progresses, you can tweak and refine this, scheduling in time in the places, and under the circumstances, that you find you tend to get the most done.
Organization skills are vital to complete a degree program and are even more important when you study online, as you will not have any face-to-face reminders from teachers or classmates on things to keep track of. You’ll need to get some kind of system or calendar in place, physical or digital, so that you know exactly when all your classes are, when assignments are due, what dates any exams or quizzes are and when you may have to meet with study groups or other students you’re completing group projects with. Get into the habit of regularly reviewing upcoming commitments so that you don’t get any last-minute surprises.
Plan your time
Many professors and successful students agree that for every hour you spend in class, you need to spend another two on your private studies. Many online students are combining their studies with work and/or family commitments, so managing your time well is absolutely essential if you want to fit it all in. Having a plan, even if you don’t stick to it 100% of the time, means you will feel more in control of your time and less overwhelmed.
Planning your schedule will also allow you to see what else you need to make time for aside from school, such as childcare, chores and errands. Whether you outsource these things as paid services, delegate them to family members or ask for help from friends and relatives, it will help you stay on track if you know you actually have time to complete your studies and meet your deadlines.
Connect with your classmates
Many online students find that a lack of face-to-face interaction is part of what makes online study difficult. Interacting with classmates can be motivating and can provide students with a source of mutual support, especially at challenging times such as during exam periods or when big assignments are due.
Just because you’re studying online doesn’t mean you can’t connect with your classmates though. Many providers will encourage this and provide online forums for students to introduce themselves and ask questions, share information or simply chat about their studies. Students will often also make their own online group chats for more informal support, so make sure to join those too. Form your own online study group or simply find a study buddy who has similar study habits to you so that you can check in while you’re studying and motivate each other.
Know what keeps you motivated
Everyone is different, so it can be really helpful to just take a minute and think about what motivates and energizes you and build that into your studies. For some people, it might be a focus on the long-term goal and why you want to achieve it. Maybe you want to have a meaningful career, help your local community or get a well-paid job with great benefits in order to better provide for your family.
For other people, the answer to what energizes you might be more simple. It might be listening to upbeat music while you study, studying while you work out on a treadmill or giving yourself lots of small rewards for meeting study-related goals, whether that’s a quick walk in your favorite place or a coffee and a cupcake.
Ask for help
Ultimately, studying for an online degree can be very challenging, as well as highly rewarding. Everyone involved recognizes this. Don’t forget your professors and the support staff at your college or university want you to succeed, so don’t be scared to reach out to them if you are struggling. They may be able to provide you with help and support, refer you to an academic skills advisor or provide you with a peer mentor. You may not even know how much help is available until you ask.