It’s the start of a New Year, and if you’ve made a resolution to earn a college degree, then you’re not alone.
Statistics about New Year’s resolutions show that 47 percent of all the resolutions people make concern self-improvement or education.
So now that you’ve made the resolution, the question is how to get started?
On-ground vs online
Step one is to decide how you want to earn your degree.
Is a traditional college experience important to you? Do you want to experience campus life? Then a traditional, on-ground program may be right for you.
If you are a working adult with career and family obligations, however, then an online program will give you greater flexibility to organize and maintain your busy life while going to school.
Over the past 20 years, online programs have become a popular path to a degree. More than 80 percent of public universities and half of private colleges offer at least one fully online program. In fact, in 2012 5.5 million students (26 percent of all college students) took at least one online course and 2.6 million students (13 percent) studied fully online.
The reason why is clear. In addition to flexibility, online programs offer:
- Year-round terms with the freedom to start any time
- Accessibility to a broader range of programs and specializations that may not be available at a local college
- Convenience for students with busy schedules to study on their own timetables
- Additional study time gained by eliminating the need to travel to campus
- An abundance of academic resources and student services to help students succeed
- Engaging coursework with opportunities to interact with faculty and other students
Online student satisfaction
What do students, themselves, think of the online learning experience?
In their third annual survey of online students, Learning House and Aslanian Market Research report that almost 90 percent of the online students who participated said that online study was equal to or better than classroom study. (And if you’d like to see what Saint Leo University online students think, click here.)
5 questions to answer now
While the advantages and high satisfaction rates of online learning are exciting, there are some fundamental questions you must ask yourself first before enrolling in an online degree program.
1. Do I have the time to commit to an online degree program?
While online education offers its advantages over traditional classroom learning, including increased flexibility, online classes are at least as rigorous – and sometimes even more academically challenging – than classroom-based courses. One reason why is that online terms are typically shorter than on-campus semesters and, therefore, more intense. Students generally spend 9-12 hours per week on each course.
Simply squeezing an online program into your free time won’t suffice. A sincere commitment to making your education a priority will require sacrifice, support from family and friends, and discipline to stay focused.
2. Am I self-motivated?
Clearly, online education puts more responsibility on you, the student. Will you be able to stay on top of assignments without the structure of a traditional classroom to guide you, creating study habits and a study calendar, for example, and then sticking with them?
Pursing a college degree is a long-term journey of daily steps -- and there will be days when that journey is challenging and uncomfortable. Can you embrace the challenge and the discomfort and continue to push through? Staying motivated begins with being passionate about your goals and your vision for your professional or personal life.
3. Am I organized?
For some of us, being organized – making lists, using folders, keeping a clear desk and scheduling our days – comes naturally, while many others have to work at it.
When it comes to being an online student, being organized is imperative. Not only does it enable you to do your best work and complete assignments on time, but it also helps to eliminate stress when your days are exceptionally busy. In addition to contributing to your academic success, with only 24 hours in a day, being organized helps you manage your time and get more done each day.
4. Am I comfortable with technology?
You may be pleasantly surprised to learn that you do not need to be a technology expert to be successful in an online program and you do not need any sophisticated or elaborate hardware.
You do, however, need a relatively up-to-date computer and a reliable, high-speed Internet connection. You should also possess some basic technical skills and be comfortable navigating online. If you don’t have that yet, consider enrolling in a basic computer skills class prior to your first online course.
5. How are my reading and writing skills?
Strong reading and writing skills are essential to being a successful online student. Textbooks may be used in online courses, but you will also be reading a large amount of material online, which is quite different from textbook reading and challenging for some people.
Just as reading assumes a greater role in online courses, so does writing. Nearly all communication occurs through writing, including classroom discussions – but that could be good news if you prefer conveying your thoughts and knowledge in writing over public speaking
Time to act
Do you think you are cut out for online learning? If the answer is yes, there’s no better time to get started than the New Year – particularly if your New Year’s resolution is to earn a degree.
Statistics show that people who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t make resolutions.
So what are you waiting for? Get started and make it a great year!
Did you make a resolution to go back to school this year? Click here to download Saint Leo's free e-book, "Are You Ready for Online Learning?" for more information.
Image Credit: Jacek Chabraszewski on Shutterstock
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