By Susan Ott
Online schools have come a long way in the last decade or so, and many adults who are going back to school have found them to be a convenient and appealing choice for continuing their education. They are, however, a whole different experience from a traditional brick-and-mortar school, which can take some getting used to. If you started out in a traditional college but want to finish your education online, here are the major differences you’ll face. It may all seem a little foreign at first, but most likely you’ll find that the positives are completely worth the change.
You’re Completely Responsible
The biggest challenge that many online transfer students face is the lack of face-to-face interactions with professors and students. While you must log in and do your work online, you don’t have someone physically in front of you holding you accountable for your attendance and your work. Most online classes require you to participate in a discussion forum, where you can often interact with fellow students. But seldom be asked to actually with a group of other students to create a project or presentation. This kind of team work might be missed by some, but avoiding it is a welcome freedom for most.
In an online school, you’re totally responsible for making sure you have all of your materials (no sharing a book with the person next to you), meet all of the class requirements, and complete all papers and other assignments. But the upside to this is that you can work at your own pace, on your own timetable (within the constraints of the specific class), and be solely evaluated on your own work. Many adults find this to be a highly satisfying experience, since they can “do school” while still maintaining a job and personal life, rather than being bound to a set schedule.
You’re Always on Time
One of the best perks to becoming a transfer student to an online school is the ability to set your own schedule. Instead of being at the mercy of the registrar’s office, you get to choose when you’ll attend class. This is actually a really healthy and productive way to learn; for instance, if you’re a night owl, you never have to “attend class” at 8am, but can work for a few hours after dinner. The flexibility of this kind of program means you can always learn when it’s best for your schedule, and not someone else’s.
You Choose Your Own Classroom
When you become a transfer student to the world of online colleges and universities, gone are the days when you must sit in uncomfortable chairs and desks. Instead, wherever you can bring your laptop becomes your classroom. Whether it’s the living room couch, your favorite coffee shop or by the pool, you’re free to study and learn in an environment that’s most comfortable for you. However, this also means that you have to be disciplined enough to choose an environment that won’t distract you from the task at hand. When you find a place that’s both comfortable and free from major distractions, let others in your life know that this is your “classroom,” and when you’re working there you shouldn’t be disturbed. Consistency is key; map out each semester with a schedule of when and where you’ll work to make sure you meet all of your deadlines, and then enjoy the freedom of doing school your way.
Your Focus is on Education
Quite possibly the most glaring difference from being a student in a physical school to becoming a transfer student to an online school is the lack of socialization. While most online programs now require a certain amount of online discussion, you won’t be chatting with your fellow students after class over a cup of coffee. This can be difficult for those who genuinely enjoy the social aspect of going to school. However, for most adults going back to college, this lack of any social obligations outside the classroom can be a huge bonus. If you’re already working, taking care of a family or have other life obligations, it can be refreshing to know that the time you spend on school is solely focused on your education, and when your time is up for the day, you can go right back to the rest of your life. This means you can fit your degree into the life you’re already living instead of the other way around. And that might just be the best part of going to school online overall.
John O’Brien has been a writer, editor and consultant in higher education for over 14 years. His background includes writing for insidehighered.com and The Chronicle of Higher Education. As editor of College Degree Complete, he has advised hundreds of adult students on how to transfer colleges without wasting the credits they’ve already accumulated, to finish their degree programs in the fastest and most affordable way.