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 – the readings and the assignments  – when 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.

 

 

 

When Vacation Just Doesn’t Do It

It’s summertime, and everyone is in vacation mode. They are either planning, doing or recovering from a vacation. I have heard, “I need a vacation from my vacation” so many times this summer, that I am wondering what is going on.

We hear from the media, work, family and friends that we need to take a vacation to get a proper work-life balance. But do work and life always have to balance out? Sometimes they just don’t, and that is why maybe you should consider a gap year or a break from your career. So here are some ideas on what to do with your gap year or long break:

*Travel. Why? Traveling really does expand your horizons and change your outlook on life. You could travel across the country by train or RV. Or you could go abroad, staying away from the expensive tourists traps – you can always find fabulous pics online of the Sistine Chapel or Buckingham Palace that are far better than what you could ever take anyways. Get out, meet the people, experience the food and culture. You’ll get a feel for how we have become a global economy and what that even means.

*Career Education. Can’t quite cut the career strings for awhile? Then use your break to do a paid internship abroad – yes, they are out there for adults too. Or take some classes to improve your career skills. Study to meet certification or licensing requirements in your field. This type of career break enhances your worth to your employer and makes you more marketable when you return to work.

*Hobbies/Interests. Sick of your career and need a break? No wonder. If you have been doing everything the career experts have advised, you have probably spent the last couple of decades chasing after those valuable skills, that dream job and that promotion with the corner office. It is time to take a break and pay attention to what makes you who you are. You are more than just of the sum of your job and your family role. There are all sorts of vacations and longer breaks that cater to people’s hobbies. Love to write or paint? Then search for writers’ or artists’ colonies or in-residence programs. I could use up a lot of page real estate here giving you ideas. But you get it – do an online search for what you like to do. Have an interest that you have never explored? Same deal. Eleanor Roosevelt is reputed to have said, “Do one thing every day that scares you.”  A one-a-day scare is a bit much for me. And I am not advocating a break-neck adventure that could leave you on permanent vacation from your career. But getting out of your comfort zone gives you practice on taking reasonable risks and allows you to grow as a person and as a professional. Even considering a career break is the first step to pursuing that growth.

*Volunteering. Taking time to give back to your community, country or world is another great career break. Maybe you are like me and feel incredibly blessed to have been able to pursue an education and amazing life experiences. Pay it forward by helping other people. Teach English in a foreign country. Help maintain hiking and camping grounds in a national park. Run a lunch program for your community’s kids who often go hungry during the summer months when school lunch programs are on break. The opportunities are endless.

If you can’t see yourself taking time out of your career right now for a break, consider locally volunteering on an ongoing basis. Become a Cub Scout or Girl Scout leader. Help out at your local opera or theater house. Even these smaller, ongoing volunteer opportunities can give you a much needed break from work and give you room to grow as an individual.

Lest taking a career break makes you tremble with fear, don’t worry. My next blog post will be on work re-entry programs and how to re-enter the work force. Have a great summer!