The Working Professional’s 3 Realities of Earning A Degree Online
Most professionals hit a point in their career lifecycle where it becomes obvious that the stepping stone to the next milestone requires more: more knowledge, more leadership skills, more communications skills – ultimately more education.
For many of these professionals, the stepping stone is often answered in the decision to consider pursuing a master’s degree.
For those in public service, the decision to return to school can be daunting – but it doesn’t have to be. The emergence of online education has created new flexibility — and more importantly access to — education for public servants who have intense and/or unusual schedules that don’t typically work with traditional and physical (AKA “brick and mortar”) campus programs.
Here are 3 fundamental considerations – and keys to success – when considering the addition of an online master’s program to the mix.
One of the biggest considerations is the element of time. Do you have the time it will take to do the work required to be successful in an online master’s program? More importantly, do you have time to not invest in yourself and taking the next step toward your professional (or personal) goals?
In both instances, it is important to know pursuing a degree takes time and you should be prepared to make a time commitment. Think about the spaces in your day where you have some free time.
This could be your:
- Lunch hour
- Afternoon nap
- Happy hour
- Waiting for your children’s practice to be over
- A meeting you really don’t need to be a part of
- Binge-TV time
These pockets of time all add up and can easily be re-prioritized to be 10-15 hours of time for yourself to get your school work done. It may even be 10pm till midnight each night, but taking a true stock of where you can be productive with your school work is critical.
You may need to make some adjustments to your commitments. Are there some activities you are currently involved in you can minimize or alleviate? Are there some responsibilities at work you can delegate or remove yourself from in order to free up some space on your plate?
You may be faced with some hard decisions in this realm in the short term, however it is important to keep in mind the long term goals which are driving you to pursue your masters.
If there is an elephant in the room, it is definitely writing.
In order to maintain the flexibility of online, almost all online programs are writing intensive. Not only because graduate programs typically focus on communication and strategy as opposed to multiple choice tests, but also because the physical classroom where you would verbally discuss becomes a digital chatroom where you will be typing your comments more often than video-chatting them.
The biggest, and most overlooked, benefit of this situation? Every online student leaves their online program a better digital communicator.
Developing the skills to communicate with peers across borders develops written etiquette and clarity, which translates to how you use email and written communication in every other facet of your life.
Tips for Getting Prepared
One way to get prepared for writing at the graduate level is to familiarize (or re-familiarize) yourself with APA format. This is currently the standard writing format most colleges utilize today. It dictates how your assignments will be set up. Becoming familiar with APA format before entering a program can certainly put you in a position to start off with positive momentum.
It is also important to note that if you are leery of writing then going to school online is a wonderful opportunity to take what may be somewhat of a weakness in your written communication skills and turn them into a strength.
Think about what you would do if you have trouble speaking in front of groups. You likely would join a local toastmasters and get experience speaking in front of groups right? This is the same type of opportunity with writing. You will have to develop and grow in your writing skills.
This will have a tremendous impact on your ability to thrive as you climb the ranks. Being able to nail those proposals and take the facts and figures and work them into an undeniable written argument, will help you take advantage of more opportunities to advance yourself and your agenda.
Finally consider what you have available to you in order to ensure you are successful in the pursuit of your masters.
Tangible: What devices will you be using to go to school? Do you need a new laptop? Are you able to utilize equipment at work? It is critical that you have the proper tools at your disposal before you start your program.
Intangible: Think about who is in your life that you can turn to for support both for technology and motivation. You may have a tech savvy spouse or even children. Can you depend on their help? If not who will be consistent? Who will be your biggest cheerleaders during your pursuit of your masters?
It’s important to get them on board with your goals and plans as they come about so that you have accountability and support through tough times. Also consider who your naysayers are and prepare yourself ahead of time for their comments.
Benefits of a Support Network
It is also important to note that ensuring this network is in place will have a couple of key benefits. It will of course help you to be successful as you won’t be scrambling last minute to get help from someone who may be caught off guard. It will also unite you with those around you as you go on your journey towards pursuing your goal. It may even inspire others to pursue their own.