After umming and ahhing about what was the best course to study, how much you could afford to spend, how far you could travel, whether you wanted a local or international degree (we vote foreign!), you have finally come to a decision. You’re going to get your qualification online.
Perhaps you have family to care for, a job you wish to keep at home, or you cannot afford to move to the other side of the world to get the degree you so crave.
There are many reasons you might choose to study online but mostly it rewards you with an opportunity to get a degree from one of the best universities in the world from the comfort of your own home, as well as giving you almost total flexibility.
So, you’ve been accepted into a distance learning programme. You’re excited, ready for the challenge and raring to go. Here is what you need to do to prepare…
1. Make a plan
If you are distance learning, chances are you have responsibilities back home. A degree of any kind is a huge commitment and you will need to make sure you can fit it around your current schedule.
Consider making a list of all the current commitments you have; say, looking after a younger sibling three times a week, a part-time job and your volunteering work.
Work out when it is you have free time and when you can fit in studying, remembering to strike a balance.
Don’t fill up the entirety of your free time with studying or you are bound to burn out. You need time to unwind on your own and see family and friends too. Your life shouldn’t end just because you begin studying – in fact, it’s just beginning.
2. Find a study space
Get a degree and don’t actually have to leave the house?! Sounds pretty ideal, but you need structure.
Okay, so you could complete the entire course from under a duvet on your sofa but after weeks and weeks of it, you’re likely to go a little stir-crazy.
You only need to speak to one freelance worker to hear: ‘working in your pyjamas is great until you realise you haven’t showered in six days, you’re eating soft cheese out of the tub for the third consecutive lunch and you don’t remember the last time you felt the sun on your face.’
So, find somewhere you can work from – maybe even just once or twice a week – where you have to wash and look presentable(ish), get out and breathe some fresh air and maybe even buy some proper lunch every so often.
You could study in a co-working space, at a local cafe or even at a friend’s house – if you think you can do it without getting distracted. Maybe even dedicate some space in your house for studying so you associate it with work time.
3. Ensure you have all required software
It goes without saying, you will need a (relatively) modern, up-to-date, reliable computer or laptop to work from. You might need X, Y or Z downloaded on your computer so be sure to check on your university website if there are any technical requirements.
If you can’t find any info online about it, don’t just assume all will be fine and dandy – send an email over and ask if there is anything you might need to have purchased, downloaded or got your head around before classes begin.
4. Speak to professors
They are going to be teaching you, helping you and grading your work for the foreseeable future so it’s a good idea to try and get to know them. Reach out via email to any lecturers you are likely to encounter on your programme. Introduce yourself, ask if there’s anything you can do before the course begins and just touch base every so often.
5. Work out orientation week
The course start date is creeping up, the excitement is building and there is so much to do before virtual-term begins. Have a look and see if your university offers an orientation week tailored to distance learners
Remember you are still a part of the university no matter how far away you may be from campus and your university is likely to want to include you in the same exciting events and learning experiences to help you settle in as students who are there.
6. Connect with your peers
Just because you won’t be going into lecture halls with your fellow students, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get to know them – and it certainly doesn’t mean you can’t. The internet is a wonderful tool; use it to your advantage.
See if there are any Facebook groups for your programme and if not you could consider setting one up and asking your professors to circulate it via email to the students on your course.
Sharing a worry or exciting thought with someone in the same position as you can be greatly comforting. Plus, it’s nice to have a friend or two, right?
You’ll likely have the opportunity to meet people from all over the world this way so while you might not have been able to go overseas for your qualification, you will benefit from a global network of peers without having to leave the cocoon of your bed if you don’t want to.
7. Visit the campus
… if you can. It might be worth seeing if you can make a trip to your university, after all, what better way to understand how everything works, what your uni is like and to speak with your professors than actually being there. That way you get to experience what it’s really like on campus and make connections with your professors in a way that extends out from the online world.
Plus, if it’s abroad (and why wouldn’t it be when you have such a huge range of institutions to choose from) then you may be able to make a little holiday out of it and really delve into the culture of the country you’re gaining your degree from.
It’s a win-win!