Earning your master’s degree online is quite an achievement, and it’s one that can really improve your future career prospects. But it has its challenges.
If you’re like most older students, you’re juggling the responsibilities of a full-time job, keeping up a home, and caring for children. You might have a spouse at home who you’re supporting or an elderly parent or two to consider. Fortunately, online master’s programs are designed with the needs of students like you in mind, and while you might face some of the same challenges in an online program as you would in a brick-and-mortar program, dealing with them might require some different strategies.
1) Work-Life Balance
In a traditional, brick-and-mortar master’s program, everything — your work and private life — revolves around the degree program. You’ll need to adjust your work schedule to accommodate your class schedule. You might need to move to be closer to campus. And it’s just a lot harder to schedule around classes that have to take place at a specific time and place.
In an online master’s program, work and life are a little easier to balance. You can make the degree program bear the burden of flexibility — and you should. You’ll need to block out chunks of time in which to focus on schoolwork, and you’ll also need to schedule quality time with family and friends, your spouse, and yourself. Remember to make time for basic needs — get enough sleep, eat healthy meals, exercise regularly, and make time for your nearest and dearest. The best will fall apart quickly without that solid base of self-care.
2) Technical Literacy
Online programs rely heavily on technology for virtual synchronous classes, asynchronous classes, exams and quizzes, and handing in assignments. If you’re not very tech-savvy, you’re going to struggle.
You need to make it a point to learn to use whatever tech tools your program requires — but sometimes technical issues just happen. Remember to stay in communication with your professor when technical problems occur. Usually, with some patience and a little help from your school’s IT department, you can resolve most technical issues. If there’s something that can’t be fixed, work with your professors to find another solution.
3) Staying Motivated
It’s not always easy to stay motivated on coursework when you know you have to walk into a physical classroom tomorrow and look the professor in the eye as you explain why your paper isn’t ready. When the coursework is online, and you can do it on your own time, it’s even easier to put off tackling the material until the last minute.
To keep yourself motivated as you work towards your degree, put together a comfortable workspace in your home and give yourself a schedule to stick to. Break down large assignments into smaller tasks. Make to-do lists and check items off as you go. Give yourself rewards for completing coursework to help you stay motivated.
It’s also easier to stay motivated to work on a big goal if you work on it a little every day. Doing so helps you build and maintain momentum in the project. On the other hand, if you skip a day, it’s easier to skip the next day, too, and then before you know, the final is due and you haven’t cracked a book in weeks.
4) Connecting with Your Classmates
You don’t get the same opportunity to sit in classrooms with your peers debating tough concepts, and you can’t all go out together for a beer after class. But you can still connect with your classmates in valuable and meaningful ways while you’re earning your master’s degree online.
Most online master’s programs encourage classmates to connect with each other via discussion forums, video calls and meetings, and even residency requirements on or off campus. At some programs, students are brought together once or twice a year for in-person classes and networking events. Even in fully online programs, you’ll have plenty of chances to bond with other students on the phone, via text, and over video chat. You can attend virtual office hours and study groups to connect with professors and classmates, too.
5) Mitigating Distractions
When you’re studying at home, you’re particularly vulnerable to distraction — all of your stuff is there, there’s a fridge full of food, and you may not be feeling particularly interested in studying, anyway. You’ll need to find ways to block out these distractions. Retreating to a private, quiet study space can help. So can sharing your study schedule with your family, so they know when not to interrupt you. If your class schedule gets too overwhelming, you can talk to your academic advisor about lightening your course load for the next semester, finishing coursework after the semester ends, or taking some courses on a pass/fail basis.
Earning a master’s degree online certainly is challenging, but they’re all challenges that the vast majority of students face with aplomb. Strict time management, discipline, and a smidge of resourcefulness should be all you need to tackle even the toughest challenges an online master’s program has to offer.
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