So What’s it Like to Study Online?

I was talking up the Eastman School of Music’s online Career and Leadership Certificate the other day to some academic professionals and musicians. It is a brand new program starting in the fall. One of the students knew I had completed my Masters degree online, and she asked me, “So what’s it like? It must be pretty weird not to have to run to class or listen to boring lectures. How did you take exams?”

There are a lot of pros to studying online. Tuition tends to be cheaper. Classes can be asychronous, meaning you do not have to log in at a certain time; you do the work Рthe readings and the assignments  Рwhen you have time. Some classes are at your own pace, while others give you a deadline to complete. You can still have the advantage of studying or interacting with classmates online, and many classes are structured to make sure that you do. You can still work full- or part-time while studying online, and school fits around your schedule, not the other way around.

Yet there are some challenges to pursuing that online degree. You have to be motivated. I mean really, really motivated. Teachers won’t be keeping track of your attendance or prodding you to hand in assignments. If your computer breaks, you have to fix it or replace it right away because you usually will not get a tuition refund for abandoning class. Exam taking protocols can be strict: you either have to switch on your laptop’s camera during an exam or hire an acceptable proctor. If your program requires you to do an internship or practicum, you may have to find your placement yourself. This is especially challenging for online nursing programs where you need a practicum. A brick and mortar nursing school will send a preceptor to supervise student nurses; most online schools, however, will not. The placement must be willing to supervise a first-time student nurse and follow the school’s practicum rules.

So, if you are still interested in studying online, here are a few things to consider:

*Make sure your school is accredited by an appropriate accrediting body. Not sure who that is? Ask someone in your target career field for help. Your degree or certificate will be worthless if the school is not properly accredited.

*You will need a computer and a high-speed DSL line. Some programs may include a laptop in the tuition price. Make sure you know the type of computer, memory and speed needed beforehand.

*Get the IT department’s help desk phone number and email. You will need it.

*Find out what is included in the tuition. A laptop might be, but other materials such as special workbooks and templates might not be.

*Stay in touch with your advisor and keep that person up to date on your degree progress. Ask to make sure you understand any revisions to degree requirements. You may think you are eligible to graduate only to find out you are not.

*Ask for prior credits and learning experiences to be evaluated for transferable credit. Take any exams (and pass them!) that will allow you to opt out of prerequisite classes. This will save you time and money.

*Balancing family life, work and study can be stressful. Take a break if you need it; however, find out what your school’s time off or gap policy is. You may be able to take a break, but your loan payback requirements may begin immediately once you stop studying.

Online degrees are being looked upon more favorably by employers as technology speeds up changes in the workplace. Studying online is one way to make yourself ready for that next work challenge.




Advertising Jobs: The Bait and Switch

In the last few months, I have heard from clients and friends that the jobs for which they applied and the jobs for which they were called to interview ended up being very different jobs. One person told me she applied for a full-time, benefits-eligible job with invoicing and social media marketing duties. During the interview, she was told the job was part-time with no benefits and the invoicing and social marketing duties had been eliminated. In addition, the hours were during the evening when she did not have access to transportation.

In reading the job description, two factors came to light: 1) the hours were described as part-time/full-time and 2) the position was clearly a mix of front and back office duties.We’ve all been there: suddenly being asked to do something that was never listed in our original job description. Employers cover themselves by adding something such as “and other duties as assigned” to their job descriptions. But this trend of changing the job BEFORE a person is even interviewed and hired is disturbing because it indicates that employers still feel that it is an employer’s job market and that they can do what they like. Yes, employer needs do change, but how do you prevent an employer from wasting your time before you are even hired?

One way to help yourself is to read the job description carefully. The lack of specific hours in the above example should have raised a red flag. In this case, the employer knew the job had a high turnover rate and wanted to get a better pool of candidates, so they added full-time to the description as bait. When the person interviewed, she realized that there was no way the job could be full-time for one person, and it would be impossible to do invoicing and marketing duties while acting as a receptionist and checking in clients.

Once you have carefully read a job description and decide you want to apply for the job, make note of any inconsistencies in the description and keep your notes handy. If you are invited to interview, you can confirm the job details when you confirm the interview date in an email which serves as a written record of the information. The person in the above example could have confirmed the interview in a short email and asked the interviewer to confirm that the job was full-time. She would have then realized that the job was not a good fit for her because it was only part-time.

Confirming job duties can be a bit trickier. Job descriptions can be pages long, and trying to confirm all of that in an email isn’t practical. However, if there are 1-3 must-haves in the job for you, try to confirm those duties in an email. There is no sense in interviewing for a position if the duties do not interest you. Another red flag is when some key job duties are not mentioned in the interview. A good interviewer will ask you questions to determine if you have the skills for the job and if you will be a good fit. You are usually given a chance in an interview to ask questions, so ask about any duties that were in the job description that haven’t been mentioned in the interview. If they are duties you really want to do and the interviewer tells you they have been eliminated or tabled for now, this is your chance to show your ability to do them and make a case for reinstating them. Sometimes duties are eliminated because employers have a difficult time finding candidates who can do all of the desired duties.

The same goes for unadvertised jobs. Conventional job search wisdom indicates that a vast number of jobs are never advertised. They are either filled within the organization or by word of mouth.  If you interview for a position such as this, get a job description in writing and verify everything in the job description. The job search process can be long and stressful enough. Protect your time and manage your stress by pinning down hiring managers on the details.