Ten years ago, completing a degree completely online was almost unheard of. But nowadays, non-profit and for-profit colleges alike are advertising more and more online degree programs. From University of Phoenix to New York University, there’s no shortage of online courses and programs for those wishing to complete a degree on their own time and online. That means the playing field is leveling for those who want to go back to school, but feel like they might not have the time.
But let’s be clear. Online degrees are no easy feat. In fact, online degrees are probably more work than getting a traditional degree in a face-to-face setting. But it can be done with discipline and planning. Also know that you’re going to have to devote serious time to completing assignments. A friend of mine started an online degree program at Ashford University, thinking it was going to be a piece of cake. What she didn’t plan for was spending her Sunday evenings after church writing essays and completing discussion requirements and staying up past her bedtime many nights trying to find sources for her bibliography.
Ultimately, she ended up dropping out after only one semester. So, it’s important to know exactly what you need to complete an online degree to figure out if it is for you because it’s not for everyone.
WHAT YOU’LL NEED TO COMPLETE YOUR DEGREE COMPLETELY ONLINE
✓ A dedicated laptop/computer with at least 1 GB of memory (required)
✓ A stable and high-speed Internet connection (required)
✓ Discipline (required)
✓ About 20-25 hours per week of free time (required)
✓ Money for tuition and books or financial aid (required)
✓ A clear goal for what you want to accomplish (recommended)
✓ An agenda (recommended)
✓ A binder to keep track of all of your coursework/syllabi (recommended)
✓ A study area free of distractions (kids, pets, etc.) (recommended)
✓ Pens and paper to write down notes as you read (recommended)
✓ Printer and ink to print out weekly announcements/syllabi (recommended)
✓ Highlighters or colorful pens for annotations (recommended)
Section 1—A Step-By-Step Guide From Start to Finish
STEP 1: Decide what type of degree you want and why
STEP 2: Write out a list of schools
STEP 3: Narrow down your list of schools (based on personal preferences)
STEP 4: Put together application materials (recommendations, test scores, etc.)
STEP 5: Apply to schools (at least 5)
STEP 6: Wait for decisions and then make yours
STEP 7: Register for classes online (check prerequisites)
STEP 8: Apply for FAFSA (if applicable) or pay for classes
STEP 9: Log onto your online course platform and get familiar
STEP 10: Begin Classes (and congratulations!)
STEP 1: Decide what type of degree you want and why
This is the most important step, hence the reason it’s number one. So many people waste so much money completing a degree program in a field they hate. DON’T be one of those people. My sister actually did this with her nursing degree. She went to school for four years to be an RN, completed her degree and became a nurse only to discover later that she hated nursing. She’s now a beautician with her own beauty salon.
You should absolutely LOVE what you’re going to be doing, otherwise why do it? The money will only be appealing for so long. Once you get into the nitty gritty of things, you’ll find that you wished you’d chosen something that could truly propel you in the direction you want to go, something that feeds the fire in your soul. For me, that fire is writing, which is why I chose to get a Bachelor’s degree in English and a Master’s degree in Professional Writing. I also plan to get another Master’s degree (probably completely online again since I’m just so darn good at it!).
One of the main reasons I was able to successfully complete my Master’s degree completely online (and by successfully, I mean I got at least a 3.5 GPA) is because I loved what I was doing. I set my mind on the end goal and I pushed through every tough moment, every annoying discussion, every daunting 10-page paper. I would be lying if I told you I didn’t think about quitting several times throughout my Master’s degree program.
I remember reading diary entries of mine detailing the situations I was dealing with as a grad student, such as a few irate professors, tasks that seemed mountainous, and deadlines that had my head spinning. I almost quit a few times. I honestly thought I couldn’t do it anymore, but I remembered the fact that it was costing me more than $50,000 in student loans and that I kind of didn’t really have a choice. Another great motivator!
But seriously, choose something that you’re really going to love. In the end, I’m glad I stuck it out and chose to continue with my degree because now I can say I’m a sensei! A master of the science of professional writing! And although I now have upwards of $75,000 in grad school loans, I’m now equipped with the tools I need to climb my way up to a nice, comfortable upper middle class life. And it’s all because I didn’t quit. And neither should you. So, get going. Dig deep, do some soul searching and find out exactly what it is that you absolutely could not live without doing. Then, go get your online degree and start kicking ass at life.
STEP 2: Write out a list of schools
I did this almost immediately because I knew what I wanted to do. I always have. One of the lucky few, I guess. What I did was research terms like “online Master’s degree writing” and “Master’s degree English online” and wrote down what came up. When thinking about schools, it’s important to know what you don’t want in a school, such as a Christian affiliation or a school that’s completely online. Now, I know this ebook is about completing degrees completely online, but believe it or not, I didn’t want to choose a school that didn’t have a campus. I wanted a prestigious university with an online program. I’m not knocking schools like University of Phoenix or Devry University. However, I knew that I wanted a school that provided the traditional online platform (rather than taking one class at a time for about five weeks at a time) with a prestigious name attached to it.
Once you have your list (I’d recommend a list of five to seven to start), begin narrowing down your schools based on personal preferences. If you’re looking for a Master’s degree program, rather than a bachelor’s degree program, consider the fact that you may have to take the GRE test. The GRE (Graduate Record Exam) is an entrance exam that many graduate degree programs require you to have taken prior to being admitted into the program. According to Petersons.com, it is a broad assessment of your critical thinking, analytical writing, verbal reasoning, and quantitative reasoning skills.
There are graduate programs with no GRE required, even from well-respected institutions, such as Johns Hopkins, Columbia University, Georgetown, University of Pennsylvania, New York University, MIT, University of Illinois, UC-Berkley, and Northwestern. Depending on what you want to study, you may be able to find a well-reputed institution that requires no GRE exam. Some programs waive the GRE requirement if you had at least a 3.0 GPA during your undergraduate studies.
The GRE test is about $200, so avoiding it may be in your best interest if you haven’t got the funds to pay for it. However, if you do have the funds, go for it! There are testing centers all over the country to schedule your computer-based exam.
STEP 3—Narrow down your list of schools
I like to narrow down my list of schools by deciding what factors are most important to me. The Top 3 Factors I look for when choosing a degree program are: 1) credibility of the school (what affiliations does it have? Is it accredited? If not, don’t even consider it!), 2) how well the program fits my individual needs (does it offer the specific program I’m looking for, such as Teaching Creative Writing or are there only courses similar to what I’m looking for?), and 3) how long will it take me to complete the program.
Typically, I think a good online Bachelor’s degree should be at least four years, if not more, since that’s usually the amount of time it takes to complete a traditional Bachelor’s degree on campus. For Master’s degree programs, I usually give a little on the time it takes. My personal preference is to find programs that are two years or less. However, if I found a program I thought was truly worth it that was about three and a half to four years, I might consider it. As someone who plans to learn pretty much for the rest of her life, I find that if these criteria are met, I’m a happy camper.
What I like to do to narrow down my list of schools is to compare them in column format.
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