Earning a master’s degree online isn’t any easier than earning it in person. In some ways, it’s harder, because you need the self-discipline to hold yourself accountable and complete your lessons without the structure of a brick-and-mortar program.
That said, it’s definitely possible to earn a master’s degree online and get an education as good as, or better than, any you could get in a brick-and-mortar program. The key to flourishing in an online master’s program is to make completing your coursework a priority. You’ll have to make room in your schedule to review course material, read, and complete assignments, while still balancing everything else you’ve got on your plate – work, family, hobbies, and friends. These tips can help.
- Make Study Time Sacred
Studying has to be your top priority if you’re trying to earn a master’s online. You’ll need to sit down with your planner each week, consider your academic and personal priorities for the week, and plan your days so that you have adequate study time each day.
Here’s the really important part: When your scheduled study time arrives, you have to sit down and study. You can prepare a study area in your home where you can get comfortable and have all your materials close at hand. You can study at whatever time of the day or night works best for your schedule, whether that means getting up at 4:00 a.m. to get in a few hours of work before the kids get up to school, or staying up late, or even burning the candle at both ends.
- Establish a Routine
You should carve out time each day to study instead of waiting to do it in random free moments. But it also helps if you can make studying part of your regular routine. Try to start your study sessions at the same time each day. Do a little personal ritual to make studying more pleasant – make a cup of tea and put on your slippers and your biggest, fuzziest robe. After a while, grabbing the tea bags will put you in the studying mindset, and the power of routine will help you maintain the discipline to study on days when you’re tired, sick, or harried.
- Use the Campus Resources
Programs like the online master’s in special education at the University of Arizona make it easy to earn an advanced degree from a top school without setting foot in a classroom. But just because you’re not going to school on campus doesn’t mean you can’t take full advantage of the campus resources. You may not be able to walk into the campus library, but your school can help you access online resources like WorldCat or JSTOR. You can also use campus resources like the writing center, tutoring, and mental health counseling virtually. Your school may even offer resources specific to the needs of virtual students.
- Keep Distractions to a Minimum
It can be hard to minimize distractions when you have a family at home, but if you want to make the most of your study time, you’ll have to take the appropriate steps. Perhaps you have a study space with a door that locks – use it. If distractions persist – or you don’t have a spare room to turn into your study – figure out the main ones and take steps to mitigate them. Maybe you can park the kids in front of Netflix for a couple of hours a night so you can focus on your homework. Maybe you need to install a social media blocker to improve your focus. Maybe you just need to have some snacks nearby.
- Bond with Your Classmates
Your classmates will one day be your colleagues, and being friendly with them could really benefit your career. But you’re already in a position to turn to your classmates to bolster your own success. Your classmates can become your virtual study buddies, answer your questions about things that are happening in class, and help you understand the material through discussion. Use the virtual tools at your disposal to create vibrant online friendships with your cohort.
- Ask for Help When You Need It
If you find that you’re struggling in your online master’s classes, ask for support. If you’re struggling with the content of your classes, talk to your classmates and professors about the material until you understand. Professors are usually happy to meet with students to discuss concepts from the class or issues you might be having with the material. If you need an extension on an assignment, ask for it. If you need mental health help, reach out to your school’s student health services. There’s always someone willing to lend a hand. You can succeed in an online master’s program. All you need is the discipline to apply yourself to your studies, and before you know it, you’ll be hanging your diploma on the wall
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