Learning From a Distance With the Bears

You may be fed up with your job, but do not quit yet. Try to find another job first. A recent UCLA study found that unemployed people are stigmatized or looked upon badly early on by potential employers. Added to your job frustration may also be the need to upgrade your skills and get a new degree. This is where learning from a distance with the Bears comes in.

I knew that I still needed to work full-time when I decided to go to graduate school. However, I wanted to study the theories behind career development, not just student personnel theories, and Masters programs in this area were few. I found a great resource at the Alternatives Library at Cornell University. It was Bears Guide to Earning Degrees by Distance Learning by Mariah P. Bear and Thomas Nixon.  This book tells you a great deal about distance education programs, accrediting bodies, diploma mills and more.

There are a few things to know about distance learning:

You can get federal student loans for a program that is accredited and is at least a part-time learning experience. Check the Bears guide for accrediting bodies or do an on-line search to find them for your field of study. Loan repayment rules are the same as those for a brick and mortar school.

You can get credit for life experience through certain programs. You may have to complete a life experience portfolio, or what amounts to forms listing your life experience, but the extra effort may be worth it, as you can get up to 1/3 of your program credits this way at some schools.

The Bears guides also provides a list of known diploma mills — schools that will take your tuition money, but they do not give you a legitimate degree. Avoid this by checking your desired school’s accreditation. Accrediting bodies give accreditation to schools based on a number of factors such as faculty to student ratio, classrooms, equipment, courses and facilities just to name a few.

Get everything in writing. Keep your acceptance letters, assigned semester schedules, transcripts, everything. You may be participating in on-line classes. Back up all documents for these classes, and keep them in a specific folder.

Make sure you have an advisor, and keep in touch with him or her. Check on a semester basis that all of your records, the classes you have taken and their grades match your advisor’s information. Stay in touch with your advisor. Distance learning programs are dynamic and can change quickly. Make sure you have the latest information. I had several classmates who did not graduate on time because they did not keep up with the new graduation requirements.

Create a study plan. It was really difficult to work full-time and pursue a Masters degree at the same time. I had to get my friends, family and employers to understand that I couldn’t take on extra projects or go to that movie Friday night or show up to a family function because I needed to complete school projects. This is one of the hardest aspects of distance education — other people think it can’t be difficult if you can work and study at the same time. But it is, so you need to garner cooperation from others before you start your program.

Emergencies happen. Distance education relies a great deal on computers. If your laptop crashes, you will need another way to get your assignments done. You also need to alert your instructors that there is a problem before you end up turning in an assignment late. These programs often rely on proprietary software, so having a tech services telephone number is an absolute must in case your problems turn out to be with the software or the school’s servers.

Stick with the distance education program. You may find it difficult to complete several classes at once while working. Find out what the minimum credits are in order to be enrolled. This number will differ if you are using a federal student loan to pay for school. If you stop taking classes for a semester or two, it is difficult to start up again. You may have to reapply to the school for admission. You may also have to start repaying your federal student loans if you are out of school for more than 6 months.

Follow computer class etiquette. If your syllabus tells you that you will be graded on participation in an on-line class, then participate. Be considerate of your on-line classmates; getting into heated arguments as opposed to rational debates is considered bad form. You may be on-line and perhaps you cannot see your classmates, but you are still developing a reputation that will stay with you during your professional career. Make sure that reputation is a good one.

Distance education may be the solution to your job woes with a some preparation and commitment on your part. Start with the Bears guide to learn more about this educational option.


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