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So your thinking of attending an online college?

Updated on June 18, 2011

Are you thinking of attending an online college?

It seems everyone I know is either thinking of or enrolling in a degree program of some kind. Online universities offer many advantages over their more traditional counterparts. If you are considering an online program there are a a few tips and tricks that may help you along the way.

There are many advantages to an online degree program.

Online degrees are a fantastic way to attend college and start, continue, or finish, your degree program while allowing you to living your day to day life. It is possible to go to college, work full time and satisfy the needs of home and family while working on your degree. Online degrees allow you to attend classes when it is convenient for you and to participate in classes from the convenience of your own home. There is a wide variety of schools and programs to pick from so achieving your particular degree online is a distinct possibility.Take the time to investigate your college and program extensively.The requirements in terms of work and participation vary according to the college, program and degree so spend a little time checking this information. The particular program I chose was a human services management program through the University of Phoenix online. This program was great for me though one of the attendance requirements was to post in your classroom forum at least three to four days a week in addition to posting homework assignments. This required me to have access to a computer daily and at least a little quiet time to post replies.In most situations this was not a problem except for the week my mother died because at the time I did not own a laptop and we had to travel to a semi remote area for the funeral in which access to a computer was an issue.For the returning student online degrees may also offer the opportunity to return to school in a less intimidating environment than your traditional setting. I have attended both online and traditional universities as a non-traditional student ( a student over the age of 20) and found the online environment to be easier in many ways than the classroom. Returning to school in your 30's or in may case my 40's is very different than attending school directly out of high school. When attending a traditional school I found it difficult to focus on my own work. It was hard to sit in classrooms full of 20 some year-old kids and feel as if I was a part of the class. It was also difficult to maintain a positive attitude in regards to my own skills. Many of these students were fresh out of high school having taken courses like Algebra and Writing within the past few years. I on the other hand barely remembered how to do any type of Math more complicated than balancing my checkbook and couldn't remember the difference between a colon and semi-colon let alone the proper usage of them. The online program allowed me to do my homework and to take the extra time I needed to reacquaint myself with some material without the added burden of feeling as if I was competing with kids half my age.

Online colleges do have their drawbacks though.

For all the advantages of an internet course there are certain aspects that may prove to be challenging as well. The first may very well be the enrollment process itself and securing your funding.This depends on whether or not you are attending a big national online or a smaller satellite program from a nearby college.The process of receiveing loans and grants for college can be daunting and intimidating under the best of circumstances. No matter how careful you are in filling out the forms,and making deadlines, it seems there is always some delay or some additional information they require.This I found to be true in a traditional college, trade school or online setting. This process becomes even more frustrating if the college of your choice in hundreds of miles away and your only contact is through e-mails and phone calls. I have been attending an online school for almost two years now. Every year I have had problems providing FAFSA with the information they needed to approve my loans. At a traditional school the process of loan getting may be an equally frustrating experience but at least you are able to go to an office and meet with someone face to face, in my experience this alone cuts down on the time it takes. My first semester at an online college took me close to six months in order to file the correct paperwork. My situation was not typical given I had a previous student loan which was dismissed, but in the case that there should be any complications in the loan process it is much easier to cut through the red tape process when not doing so via e-mail.My advice is to be patient. If you feel an online degree program is the way to go for you than hang in there,with patience and persistence most issues get ironed out. The advisers are very encouraging and helpful and though it may take a little more time to work it all out, problems will eventually get resolved.

Starting class

So you made it through financing, got your loans and set your classes. Now comes the fun part! Online classes are different than their in-class counterparts. If you are returning to school after a long time and therefore have never really had the experience it may be a little weird at first.Read instructions fully and give yourself time to get used to it. In my case it took me about nine weeks to feel I had a handle on what I was doing. If you are the type to become easily frustrated with computer issues you may have a few problems. One of the first difficulties I encountered was the inability to attach and download my homework assignments while using certain programs. For what ever reason the gods of the internet decided to pick on me I have no idea. But in my very first class I found I could not attach my homework assignments unless using Internet Explorer. Google Chrome and Mozilla would not work. I also had to figure this out on my own because calling tech support turned out to be almost as frustrating as the issue itself. Once again you may be faced with the problem of figuring out the issue on your own without the first hand assistance on the other hand there is no one to hear you scream outside your immediate family

Make sure you have a back-up plan

This bring me to one of the most helpful tips I can give a you in regards to returning to school online. Make sure you have back-up. Whether it is someone you know with computer knowledge, someone to watch the kids or a spare computer. Enlist the support of others as soon and often as you need. Call teachers, talk to coworkers, bully older children , bribe spouses, maybe even ask for help at your local high school or college. No matter what the issue, going it alone might get you by for awhile but make sure there is always someone you can go to when the going get's rough. Online degrees are a fantastic way to update skills or or finish a degree but as with most things valuable it takes commitment. Look for more tips and tricks for success with your online degree program in the future and good luck.


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    • kschimmel profile image

      Kimberly Schimmel 

      7 years ago from North Carolina, USA

      I just completed my MLS via the online program at North Carolina Central University. I like having a diploma from a "real" college, yet I never once set foot on campus.

    • wendi_w profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Midwest

      Thank you for the comments.Online college is very different in many ways but with the right attitude you can get through it.

    • SuffolkJason profile image


      7 years ago from Ipswich, Suffolk, England, United Kingdom

      Useful article. I particularly like the advice about getting support for tech issues.

    • StephanieBCrosby profile image

      Stephanie Bradberry 

      7 years ago from New Jersey

      I love the progression of information you provide. I started instructing online before ever taking an online class for credit. But being an online learner now I can appreciate some of the early struggles of my students. Learners need as much information like this as possible before taking the challenge of an online class let alone a whole degree.


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