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Why University of the People Offers Serious Online Degrees

Updated on June 21, 2016

A Note On Studying in Your Thirties...

Taking up a course of education in your thirties is a big decision. There's a lot at stake. It's nothing like when you're in your twenties – when Life is all about exploring and taking in all that is on offer.

Of course, it's a cultural thing too. People, except for a few of my peers, are still studying. But, in general, being Indian and pursuing a course of study at this age, is usually scoffed upon. Or considered suspiciously odd.

The common impression that one develops as you grow up in this country is that it's best to be done with your studies by the time you turn 25 years – after that, it's time to take up other responsibilities even if you'd hardly like to.

So, how does one start over, given that there are very few opportunities for people who wish to explore a few subjects of their choice, regardless of age?

Which led me to asking myself: why even bother studying, whether in your thirties or back then?

It's also what led to apply to University of the People – an online college that offers both business and computer science degrees. It's more than just a cheap option...

Why Self-Education?

Does getting an education solely mean making more money? Or, is there more to getting an education?

It's hard to tell, in today's world. The focus is really on getting through college and then, a job. Maybe, a wife and kids too.

But one thing is true: it's not very hard to surmise that your education (or the lack of it!) is a big factor that influences how your Life shapes up.

According to research, most if not all Ph.Ds are paid the most in the United States among other countries, while lesser mortals slug it out, in simpler jobs until retirement.

So, better opportunities mean a better lifestyle. There is no doubt that you cannot survive in this world without money. It's necessary for literally everything. Yet the truth really is that it isn't everything.

As soon as you hit your thirties – after a decade of work – it's all about making a difference in the world around us. In simpler ways. Maybe even writing a blog such as this one is one example. Playing music. There's a fulfillment that you seek - and only one that education can offer.

Just the same old, same old will just not do. That's the conundrum for some of us in a world where people are scared to make gutsy moves, in order to make a living from something that gives us 'joy'– one as simple as even creative writing over the Web.

Well, if you have bills to pay – you wouldn't be able to give this much thought – but it's really worth thinking about, if you want to do anything worth remembering with your Life.

For the most part of mine, I've worked in the capacity of what is known as a Virtual Assistant today. Doing a number of simple jobs for people while constantly acquiring learning new skills, related to writing, education, technology and the like.

It's not something that I'd like to stop and consider to be a real education. A self-education, really. Which brings me to University of the People that, as I discovered, thrives on the very same principle.

4 Elements of Study at University of the People

Working and studying is NOT easy. There's a lot of sacrifice and discipline involved as you progress through a course of study while also having to keep your eye on a number of other things: the bills, fun apart from other aspects of your Life.

But what if you could study a reputed degree from a University that focuses a lot on “critical thinking”? From the comfort of your own home too? One that offers scholarships but maintains the quality of an education for all its students.

Yes, there have been many scams in the past but University of the People, despite the cynicism, has delivered – and delivered well too.

For starters, each course lasts for at least two months. There's a lot of reading – and I mean, a lot of reading – so these degrees aren't for those who want to breeze through college.

And no, there aren't MCQ simple exams that one takes to pass – it isn't the only criteria that determines whether you get through the course or not.

Having said that, here are four elements that are common to all courses, while studying for the last two years at University of the People:

1: Discussion Forum
For the most part, you are asked to answer a question related to that week's reading in a public forum by a specified timeline. Apart from this, you also need to keep the discussion going by sharing your thoughts by adding to your classmates' answers too. While this might seem very MOOC-like, this is where the resemblance to one ends.

2: Written/ Programming Assignment
Critical thinking is something that's necessary when it comes to these written or programming assignments. Well, you have to submit one written or programming assignment EVERY week – it's mandatory. Not only will your classmates review your work but your Professors will also do this when necessary. It must be emphasized that students who plagiarize are dismissed – every assignment HAS to be original and written without the help of anyone else – or worse still, Google. We generally use the APA (American Psychology Association) style of referencing as this is usually the standard for most academic papers.

3: Learning Journal
This submission is probably the most interesting of them all given that each student is expected to reflect on that week's learning. It's new to me, having studied primarily in the Indian education system that makes little or no room for self-reflection. Education, as I believe, should matter much more than grades – where you apply that week's learnings to your own situation. Which is why this element is probably my favorite among the four...

4: Self & Graded Quizzes/ Final Exam
Of course, there's the conventional Self and Graded Quizzes that one must complete every week and which adds up to your GPA that is calculated at the end of each Term. It's multiple choice type questions but it's not as easy as you think either. In most cases, the questions are mixed up, especially in the Final Exam. In addition, and given the ground that has to be covered over the next eight weeks – almost 80-100 pages per week - it's a lot and can be extremely challenging to remember the answer whether it is a Graded Quiz or a Final Exam. Self-Quizzes are really ungraded practice quizzes that test your retention of what you've learned each week.

Of course, making a list of these elements isn't to scare you but to help you realize that there's a good amount of work to be done when taking this degree. But if you put your best efforts, with each and every one of these elements - it's very possible - a good 15 to 20 hours of study per week should do it.

The Benefits of Pursuing a University of the People Degree

Given that taking an online degree is a new concept for most people my age, here are some things that I've learned that turn out to be a real advantage, when studying at University of the People for a professional degree:

1: Study at your own pace and from just about anywhere
2: Lowest costs ever (studying at an American university will cost you a $1000 per credit easily)
3: Help from excellent professors
4: Hard work and discipline becomes a part of your Life
5: You can study further if you so wish to

Since this is a serious course of study, don't think that you can exit halfway and get away with it. It just doesn't work like that since it isn't a MOOC. Don't be fooled. There's a lot of hard work that you have to put in too, right from the start.

So, what about job opportunities?

Well, whether you are in your twenties and someone is paying for your studies or – much like myself – where you have to pay your way through college, at the very least, you can consider it to be an authentic degree for a serious profession in either Business or Technology.

Others can go on to study at other colleges – whether online or campus based – if they want to pursue their Masters' degree or otherwise.

In any case, the technology degree aspirants can pursue freelancing options, given the languages that we learn or look for a job in their country of residence. The options are diverse and plentiful, really. The internet has dissolved borders, nationalities and attitudes of working with people across cultures like no other...

In Closing

While pursuing this University of the People degree has probably been the best thing I've done – probably, for the most of these forty years of my Life, this might not be the same experience that everyone has.

Yet every word written here is absolutely true. No exaggeration. No hyperbole. No lies. Shai Reshef has been an inspiration and has changed the online degree format forever – given how some other Universities are really 'diploma mills' and nothing else.

While nothing is ever perfect, there's one thing that's true about University of the People: it gets as close as possible to the ideal of making education a right for everyone – at an affordable price.

Even if you have heard otherwise, my two years at University of the People should stand as an authentic recommendation for those who wish to better their lives materially while also understanding the importance of being a well-rounded person too, thanks to an education that is truly worth pursuing.

As Isaac Asimov put so finely: “A self-education, I firmly believe, is the only kind of education out there.” It sums up what the University of the People has on offer. If you are a go-getter, a thinker and aren't one to be deterred by too many ifs or buts, then this is a University worth looking at.

Having said that, if you have any questions or doubts, please feel free to leave a comment at this blog. Also, feel free to join the University of the People Facebook Page - if only to keep in touch with the amazing things that the University has been up to.

Shai Reshef's TED Talk


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