So, you’ve done it. You’ve applied for (and been accepted to) an online degree program. Congrats! Making the decision to further your education is never an easy one—especially if you’re deciding to go to class while you’re also working. As an instructor for an online master’s program, I run across all types of students from all walks of life. It probably goes without saying, but many of my students don’t realize this very real truth until it’s too late: online classes are different. Unlike attending a lecture in a physical classroom, it’s much easier to put off your online classes (either intentionally or not) and because you’re sometimes separated by thousands of miles from your professor and classmates, it’s easier to fail them.
Time and time again, I see my students struggling with fundamental organizational and communication skills that if mastered could truly improve their academic success. Here’s how to make the most of your online class experience—and how to make sure you don’t fall through the cracks:
Read the syllabus.
At the beginning of the semester, every single one of your classes should have a syllabus clearly posted. Download it, print it out, and read it carefully, just like you would any important legal document. Because that’s really what a syllabus is—it’s an agreement between you and the professor. Know it inside and out.
Use a calendar.
Once you’ve got your syllabus, write down all of the due dates for all of the assignments—even the discussion board posts. This overview can help you plan out how you’ll write your papers and when you’ll work on projects. Make sure that you also carve out time for your readings (professors really can tell when you don’t read the text) and that you also mark down office hours.
Talk to the teacher.
Online classes make it too easy to be just a few pixels on a screen. Don’t be anonymous and fade into the background. Attend her online office hours. If your professor offers the chance to conference by phone, take him up on that offer. Ask questions. Being visible is important—a professor who knows who you are and that you’re making an effort is much more likely to work with you should an issue arise.
Know when to notify.
If you’re currently active duty, let your professor know right away. Likewise, if a deployment appears on the horizon or if you’re PCSing (both of which happened to my husband while he was working on his master’s), let your instructor know as soon as you can so that he or she can work with you. Professors can’t help or work out a solution if you don’t communicate your obstacles until afterward, when your grade is irreparably low.
Seek out a veteran’s liaison.
Not every school has one, but many do. See if yours has a counselor or advocate specifically dedicated to working with military students. They can be a great source of information and can help bridge the space between the military and civilian worlds. Make sure you also check with them about scholarships and grants that may be available to you.
Jo is the author of Jo, My Gosh! a blog about her journey as a newlywed military wife. When she’s not working from home, she’s writing, reading, trying new recipes, watching sports or cross stitching. Catch her on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook and say hi!