Being a graduate student always requires ambition, a special set of skills and knowledge and a healthy amount of willpower, but the online graduate student has challenges to maneuver that the traditional campus-based student does not. Whether it’s negotiating the complexities of a full-time job or an active family, the online student usually has a few more items to manage on what is often a smaller place.
Take heart, online student. Where there’s a will; there’s way, and it doesn’t matter the field of your online degree; from the rigors and demands of getting a graduate degree that will train you in how to be a better engineer to the specifics of getting a master’s degree in social work, every online degree is different, but every online graduate student needs this set of tools to get them successfully through an online program.
How you start your program can determine the level at which you function for your entire graduate degree. When you start strong, with mindfulness, optimism and a schedule, you set the tone for the rest of your coursework and the delicate balance that your life will require. Unlike more traditional schooling, an online program’s flexibility can make it seem like a short-term haven for procrastination. Don’t be fooled. Those deadlines out there in the ether are just as real as the ones you remember from brick and mortar classrooms.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
While where it is and what it looks like are important, the space where you do all the work related to your courses, projects, research and like must be dedicated to your quest to get your degree and that quest alone. Too often, online students let real life encroach on the time and space they need to get their work done efficiently and well. If you want to maintain balance and to earn good grades, a dedicated workspace is essential. A single location devoted solely to your schoolwork will help the rest of your household respect your needs for quiet and calm while you are in that space, and you’re less likely to misplace important papers and books. To the best of your ability, keep the space organized and free of clutter. An organized work environment that is free of visual clutter helps any brain process information faster and maintain focus better.
Do Time Management — Don’t Just Think or Talk About it
Time management is not an idea; it is a practice, and to that end, here is how to do it:
- Make a plan. Online students need structure, and more often than not, you’re going to have to provide it yourself. Check your syllabus and build a plan around it.
- Check in daily. It isn’t enough to occasionally check in with your plan. At the start of every day, review what needs to be done now and in the coming weeks.
- Consider the future. Don’t let yourself fall asleep at the wheel. During your daily check-in, look ahead so that you can prepare for projects and papers ahead of time.
Create a Schedule and Keep it
If the time that you have to devote to your master’s program is from 5 a.m. to 8 a.m. Monday through Friday, then block out that time, and do not deviate from it. Online degrees can feel amorphous, but if you create a structured schedule and honor it, you will create helpful boundaries that will not only help you get your work done, it will also protect the rest of your life from being swallowed by your graduate degree as well.
Develop and Utilize Your Relationship with Professors
Start communicating with your instructors early, and anytime you don’t understand an assignment, ask for clarification. Because they don’t see you, online communication is even more important than in a traditional learning environment. When you use email to interact with an instructor, make sure you use proper grammar, punctuation and excellent manners. In an online master’s degree, email may be the primary way that professor gets to know you, so how you conduct yourself through that medium can have far-reaching consequences.
The online graduate student’s unique learning situation often calls for a unique approach to ensure success. From banishing all leanings toward procrastination to becoming a more self-aware emailer, these tools will help you succeed on the Internet and in the workplace long after you’ve completed your degree.
About the Author: Kaytee Hoyne is a contributing blogger, who recently completed her online master’s degree in engineering management.