Three Things to Know Before You Enroll in Online School
In early 2017 I enrolled back in college, ready to finally get the diploma I’d been putting off for years. The company I had previously worked for sold, and I didn’t know what I was doing next—except that I was going to finish school. I did not want to sit in a classroom, so I enrolled online thinking that doing coursework from my couch was an ideal routine.
I was half-right. Attending college from wherever you want is great, but it comes with a few setbacks and requires more discipline than a traditional classroom setting. I firmly believe online classes are made for those of us who can’t sit in a classroom all day. You have the freedom to create your schedule, as long as you make those due dates. Here are a few crucial tips I picked up along the way—and the true (but harsh) realities of online classes.
1. Your professors aren’t going to hold your hand
When you attend college online, you give up the chance to meet with your professor face-to-face. This is especially true if you travel as I do, if you live far away from campus or you’ve got a full-time job with demanding hours. College professors are a different breed, and aren’t anything like your favorite teacher from high school whom you could always count on to “walk you through” an assignment. There’s a good chance you’ll only receive brief instructions and minimal email correspondence.
In my final semester, a professor extended an assignment (worth a large percentage of my grade) that gave zero direction on the format, length or rubric that it was to be graded on. After a brief moment of sheer panic, I started drafting an email with a list of questions about the assignment. I send it, and … no response. I was on my own. The only thing I could do was base my assignment off previous ones, and the format that was required throughout the duration of the class. Basically, I was winging it with educated guesses. (Thankfully, my assumptions were correct, and I received a high grade.) While not every professor is like this, you can definitely count on receiving less direction as a whole. Be prepared.
2. Group assignments are even more of a challenge online
One semester, my professor assigned a project with six members per group. We had to create a product, logo, target audience, e-commerce shipping details, etc. There was also a video element that had to include each member of the group. Assignments like these don’t give individual grades, which means each member of the group will receive the same grade, regardless of effort that individual put in. If you have a gold-star team, where each member contributes their fair percentage, then you have no worries. But odds and experience say you’ll likely have one lazy seed in the group.
When this happens, you can try to politely nudge the person into completing their share—but don’t count on it working. Chances are you’ll have to work with the other members to divy up the remaining tasks that need to be completed.
If you find yourself in a group project, here’s how to make sure it goes as smoothly as possible:
Have a group chat via iMessage, Slack or GroupMe. This keeps everyone accountable to the tasks assigned and allows for easy communication for updates. No one likes to be called out in public, so if someone isn’t holding up their end of the project you can politely notify them in the group chat.
There should always be a leader. This person oversees the progress of the project, and keeps tabs on when tasks need to be completed by. Since you’re in online classes, it’s a little more difficult to get a “feel” for who the leader in the group is. That’s why it’s important to establish a group chat for communication. Who takes charge on due dates? Who’s divvying up the tasks? Who’s asking the group for ideas, and responding accordingly?
Set a group due date three days prior to the actual assignment due date. This is crucial for ensuring all the information is correct, and gives the leader time to review all the material. Receiving the tasks in pieces the day it’s due is a sure fire way to create panic and stress. Don’t do that to yourself.
3. A schedule helps. Set one, and stick to it.
You might be thinking online classes are easier, since you don’t have to make an in-person appearance at lectures. You’re wrong. Online classes require a lot more planning and discipline. Yes, you have the option to attend class in your pajamas (which, don’t get me wrong, is great), but you also have to coordinate due dates with the other demands in your life, and there’s no set schedule from the school to help you stay on track.
I’m a social media manager, with tight deadlines and ever-changing features and algorithms to keep up with. I was also enrolled in 18 to 21 hours each semester while in college, which is almost double-time. It was crucial for me to set a schedule, and stick to it religiously. This helped me keep everything in line, and make sure I always met my due dates (at work and in school). If you aren’t naturally organized and you’re enrolling in online classes, invest in a planner you’ll use day in and day out. You aren’t sitting in front of a professor every day, who reminds you about upcoming assignments. It’s all on you, so you have to own it.
Online classes are a wonderful way for busy women to pursue their degrees—as long as you remember to “show up” in the same way you would if you had to report to a classroom. Ask your questions early, find classmates who are as motivated as you are and keep track of your assignments by using a planner. Keep your head down, and do the work.
As of May 11, 2019, I’m officially a college graduate. If you’re wondering whether graduates of online courses still get to walk across a stage to commemorate their hard work, I can report: hell yes, you do. You’ve earned it.
Ashleigh is currently traveling the U.S. with her husband, Jake, while finishing her B.B.A. at Southeastern Oklahoma State University (cue grad cap toss in May 2019). She’s a content creator, social media manager, and blogger on all things business. When she’s not working, you can find her out exploring new cities with her husband or wandering around the office supply aisles of Target. Connect with her on the ‘gram @ashleighkluck.