Guide to an Online Education
Obtaining Your Online Degree from Beginning to End - A Complete Overview

This comprehensive Overview will help answer your questions about the vast and exciting world of online learning. Whether you are just starting to think about going back to school or have already made the decision to return, most of your questions will be answered here.

If this is your first online education experience, you can rest easy knowing that your school has put in a lot of time and money to ensure you have a positive experience. Just be sure to ask questions if you don't understand something, complete your assignments on time and enjoy the freedom of earning a college degree at your own pace!

Table of Contents:

  • The Enrollment Process
  • Registering for Online Classes
  • Before Starting Your Online Degree
  • Starting Your Online Coursework
  • The Online Classroom
  • Attending Online Classes
  • Obtaining Your Online Degree

The Enrollment Process

Some Things to Consider When Enrolling In an Online University Program

You've chosen the degree program that will help you succeed in your goals. You've searched and found accreditedonline universities who can provide you with the education you desire. You've requested more information from your chosen college and are now aware of enrollment requirements. Your family is on board and as excited as you are at the prospect of you getting your degree. You're ready to get started!

Even though you've done a lot of up-front work, the enrollment process can still be tricky. Luckily, most universities who offer online education will match you up with one of their Enrollment Counselors. An Enrollment Counselor can help you through several aspects of your online educational journey including: enrolling in the college, filling out forms and paying tuition. Additionally, you may be able to transfer credits from previous university courses, or for work experience that could apply to your chosen degree program- an Enrollment Counselor can help you with that.

In addition to Enrollment Counselors, online colleges have Financial Aid Counselors. Often there are scholarships, loans, and/or grants available to help you pay for your tuition; a Financial Aid Counselor can help you find and access these valuable resources. Moreover if your online education is being funded by your employer or the U.S. Military, a Financial Aid Counselor can help set up a payment schedule.

Registering for Online Classes

Your online Academic Advisor

Your university wants you to succeed in your degree program. One of the ways they will help you is by assigning you an Academic Advisor. Your Academic Advisor will help you plan your course work in such a way that will best match your time requirements and personal schedule.

Online courses can vary in length from course to course. Some may last a month, others may run for a whole semester and others may last six weeks. At the beginning of the academic semester when you are signing up for your courses, your Academic Advisor makes sure you take the course length into consideration when planning your schedule.

Before Starting Your Online Degree

Preparing Yourself for Your Online Education: Computer and Your Workspace

Before beginning any course work toward your degree, there are some things you can do at home to make your transition into online education smoother.

First, make sure that your computer has all the necessary programs to be able to meet your course requirements. If you need software such as Adobe Acrobat (for .PDF files) or Microsoft Word, it's important that you have those programs downloaded and working before your classes begin. Check with your school before buying the software- they may offer downloads for free.

Next, make sure you have your physical space set up. In addition to a computer and desk, you may consider getting some notebooks, pens and pencils and a highlighter. You also may want to keep a bookcase to house your course books.

Take some time to browse through the school's web pages. Log into the university's page and look around. You may find there are a lot of valuable tools available for students; also you will get a good feel for where things are in case you need them later.

Get your books as soon as you can. If you are ordering them online, it could take up to ten days to receive them; consider going to the University's bookstore and purchasing them in person. While you're there, consider visiting your department and meeting your advisors and/or professors in person.

Starting Your Online Coursework

Familiarizing Yourself with Online Learning and Starting Your Coursework

If you are new to online learning, your first course will most likely be about how to be a successful online student. This will give you the tools you need to succeed at your degree classes while simultaneously giving you your first online course experience.

Your introductory course can take many forms, but generally you can expect that you will learn how to submit your assignments for evaluation, how you can interact with your instructor and your classmates, how to access your university's online library, and it may even include an online practice test or two. Additionally, you will learn how to access support services such as the Career Counseling Center or Technical Support.

The "on-the-job-training" aspect of your introductory course can double as an orientation to the university's course layout. You can discover (and note) contact information for offices you may need later, such as the school's business office or the computer help desk. By keeping this information handy, you won't be panicked should you need to contact them in a hurry.

Even if you are familiar with software and you are generally computer literate, take advantage of the introductory course to make sure you are able to easily enter the virtual classroom. There are many online course management systems on the market, so it behooves you to make sure you are familiar with all aspects of the course's software including discussion boards, assignment pages, the e-mail system, etc.

Finally, send an introductory e-mail about yourself to the group. It's quite possible that you'll meet a kindred spirit with whom you can later form a study group or share valuable course information. Studies show that learners who partner up do much better on course work than those who work alone.

The Online Classroom

An Inside Look at Online Classrooms

Depending on the online classroom software that is being used in the course, each classroom will have a different look. However, there are some general conventions that can be found in most online classrooms.

One of the first things you can expect to receive is a contact list of your fellow students and the instructor. This list will minimally consist of names and e-mail addresses, but may also include phone numbers and Skype user names as well.

Class lectures can come in many forms- an audio presentation, a video presentation, or some other interactive multimedia. If you are a highlighter or prefer a hard copy of the material, often you can download and print transcripts of the lecture material.

Additionally, there may be online discussions about course material that are housed in virtual classroom discussion boards or e-mail groups. The great thing about these discussions is that you can log on and read them and reply to posts according to your personal availability. Generally you can expect to log onto the classroom website 2 to 5 times per week.

Finally, while most online classes are conducted 100% online, some programs require that you physically meet once or twice a semester. Be sure to read your course material thoroughly so that you understand your responsibilities for the class. If you don't understand, check with your instructor or the school's Academic Advisor.

Attending Online Classes

Every university has its own format for the completion of assignments, but generally assignment expectations will be outlined in the course syllabus you will receive at the beginning of the class. Sometimes professors post assignments as files in a database which can be accessed with a password; these files will generally be in Word or PDF format.

In addition to the syllabus, many courses provide you with a calendar and a book list of required reading. Depending on the set up of the online classroom, you may need additional software to access the classroom or your assignments. If this is the case, the university will make sure that you obtain necessary materials in a timely manner.

It's important that you read your syllabus thoroughly so that you will have an idea of what you will learn in the course and so that you can acquaint yourself with the expected course workload and deadlines. Being aware of expected assignment deadlines will help you to plan accordingly, so you do not find yourself overwhelmed when assignments become due.

Completing Your Online Assignments

As in traditional accredited universities, students must complete assignments on time and meet expected academic standards. This fact does not change for online learners. Your advantage is that you will be able to complete your assignments according to your personal schedule, but you will still be asked to submit your work by a specific date and you will be graded based upon intellectual and academic criteria set out by the professor at the beginning of the assignment- usually set out in the syllabus.

Depending on the degree type (Associates, Bachelors, Masters, or PhD), you will be asked to complete a varying number of assignments. The average time you will need for this can range from 10 to 20 hours per week. The work you submit will be evaluated by the same criteria as any academic submission should be and so it is important that you put in the necessary intellectual effort and follow academic conventions (such as avoiding plagiarism, for example).

Obtaining Your Online Degree

The Length of Time It Takes to Receive Your Online Degree

Depending on what degree program you've enrolled in, the time it will take you to earn your degree may vary. Your Academic Advisor will no doubt give you an idea about the length of your program at the beginning of your online learning adventure.

There are a couple of factors, however, that may speed up the process. If you have attended a university previously, you may be able to transfer some of your credits.

Additionally, you may be able to take CLEP exams to exempt yourself from basic courses in which you are already proficient.

Finally, the more time you can commit to your online education, the faster you will complete your degree program. It's really up to you and your personal schedule as to how quickly you complete your program.

In Conclusion

There are so many advantages to getting your degree online. As you can see, your university has taken great care to see that you succeed. Now that you have a general idea of what to expect for your online degree education program, the next step is to apply to the university which offers the degree program you want to pursue.

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