Written by Stephanie Small, Edited by Laura Morrison, for GradSchools.com, April 2014
An online degree can be a great option if your location, work schedule, or family responsibilities mean that you require more flexibility than the average student. Like anything, though, this process comes with its own unique pitfalls. In order to guarantee a great experience, watch out for these five common mistakes that students often make in online classes.
1. Ignoring accreditation
Best-case scenario: a degree from an unaccredited school looks sketchy. Worst-case: for certain professions, a degree from an unaccredited college or graduate program means that you’ll be ineligible for certain certifications or licensures. In the long run, this might negatively impact on your career. There’s an easy solution, though. Before applying, confirm that your school has been accredited by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation, as well as any discipline-specific accreditation bodies.
2. Ignoring red flags
There are some great online schools. There are some solid online schools. And then…there are the diploma mills that are just out to make a buck. Do your research! A Google search can yield clues about a school’s reputation. Is there a history of law suits, or high student loan default rates?
3. Lack of motivation
Online classes are self-paced, and you often don’t have to show up at a given class at a particular time the way you must with ground schools. For the self-motivated student, this is no problem. For those of us given to procrastination, it can lead to trouble. Before deciding that online school is the way to go for you, take an honest assessment of your own level of motivation. You don’t even need to be a model of self-discipline, as long as you’ve got a study schedule down that you’re prepared to commit to. But if you know your tendency is to slack, you may want to reconsider your path.
4. Lack of structure and systems
Even highly motivated students may not succeed if they don’t have a clearly defined schedule in place. Before your class starts, take an inventory of your current commitments and responsibilities, and decide where class and homework will fit in. Physically write it down – paper or electronic, it doesn’t make a difference, as long as you refer to it frequently. Then stick to it. That said, remember that the best schedules aren’t rigid. Allow for some flexibility – for example, you may want to build in an extra hour or two per of studying, so that if Friday rolls around and a quick happy hour is looking appealing, you can blow off some steam without sacrificing your academics.
5. Lack of technology
A computer that works well and that you can access nearly 24/7, and a swift internet connection, are must-haves for online class. If you’re lacking any of these items, your academic success may be severely impacted. Before starting class, make sure that you have the technology that you need, and that it’s in good working order.