A few weeks ago, my online masters degree program started. It’s already been much harder than I was expecting. Overall, I’m happy with it, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have my gripes. Here are my tips for surviving online grad school, and some realizations I’ve made that you should consider before embarking on an online higher education degree yourself.
Discipline. I knew this one going in, but discipline is even more crucial than I realized. It’s important to set aside time and, preferably, also a space to get your work done. And you should keep to your schedule. Being separated from the rest of your classmates, it’s hard to judge where you stand in the course, so trying to stay ahead can be really hard. The best I’ve been able to do is to keep myself up to date on the video lectures and the reading. If I can’t be sure if I’m getting ahead, at least I can be pretty sure I’m not falling behind.
Routine. This goes in hand a little with my first point of advice, but more specifically, set a routine for yourself so that you’re always up to date on the current state of the class. Every morning, I check the message boards for my classes to see what people are talking about. I do miss actually getting to talk to my classmates in the minutes before a lecture to get the latest news, but my routine helps keep me informed almost as well.
Perserverance. I didn’t realize before how useful it was to have a physical study group or physical office hours with a TA. You can get people’s undivided attention that way. Due to the difficulty in forming friendships in this virtual program, I haven’t found any study groups. And due to the number of students in my classes, my TAs can’t give me much one on one help. This means that when I get stuck, I have to work through the problem myself. This skill is really valuable, but when you’re stressed, it’s easy to get discouraged.
Perspective. Ultimately, you started this program to better yourself. If you’re learning, be happy with that. I’ve found that being isolated from the instructors and the other students, it’s harder to keep perspective. It’s easier to tear yourself down over a bad grade. It’s easier to get overwhemed when you don’t understand a concept. It’s easier to talk yourself out of your planned study time for the day. In all of these cases: don’t!