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Going to College Online: A Student's Experience

By Kristie Janeway Jernigan, BS, MHA
East Tennessee State University and University of Phoenix Graduate

I attained my bachelor's degree from a traditional university, but I knew that was not a worthwhile option when I decided to return to school for a master's. I would be working full time while in school, and did not want to sacrifice valuable family time in exchange for furthering my education. There were various universities located nearby, but their limiting class schedules would not work for me, as they would require that I be away from home several times during the week or on the weekends. I wanted school to fit into my schedule - not for me to have to fit into a school's schedule. At that point, I began looking into online universities.

Researching Universities

At first, I was skeptical about online universities, but after doing a little research I realized there were certain criteria that would help put my concerns at ease. The first was accreditation. There are several agencies that provide accreditation. A good place to start your search is the Department of Education's Database of Accredited Postsecondary Institutions and Programs. Getting a degree from a non-accredited institution can cause later difficulties when applying to other universities, transferring credits and even employment with certain companies. Another consideration was the curriculum of the program I was interested in. I wanted to be sure it had classes that were going to teach me the information I needed to learn. I also needed to confirm that I could afford to attend. So, I looked at financial aid options and even employee education benefits through the company I worked for.

The Online Setup

The school that I chose to attend was The University of Phoenix. I quickly learned that attending an online university was a very different experience. Everything I needed for the class was provided in the virtual classroom. Even the library was online and through it I had access to many different types of research publications, articles and books. I could even ask for help from a librarian when needed. The books I used were e-books that could be easily downloaded or printed. I was also required to work within a group of students that the professor identified.

Attending Class

Students at this online university attended one class at a time for a six-week period. Within the first week, the professor divided the class into different learning groups. I interacted with the professor and the other class members in this virtual classroom. I was expected to answer in-depth questions each week on the required readings and to attend class a certain number of times during the week to contribute to class discussions. Every week there were assignments that I had to complete with a learning team or on my own that consisted of everything from PowerPoint projects to lengthy research papers.

It's Worth the Effort

Getting an online degree is definitely much more flexible than attending traditional universities, but that doesn't mean it's easier in every way. You still have to work to achieve this degree. The assignments are demanding. To be successful, you need to be an excellent writer and communicator. You need to be able to work well with others because you will have to work closely together within your teams. You also need to have some self direction and organization skills. If you are willing to work hard, it can be done.

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