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How Realistic Are Your College Expectations?

September 13, 2016 by Coventry Kessler |

You’ve decided to go back to college and earn a degree. You’re pretty excited, but also a little worried. After all, it’s been a long time since you were in school. How are you going to do?

Here’s the good news: Older students who’ve been “out in the world” for a while tend to do better than their younger peers. To begin with, you have additional maturity and work experience. You’ve learned some self-discipline. And you may have a better idea of what your goals are. 

But there are challenges too. Most of you will be be working full or part-time. You may have kids and/or a partner. You may have other responsibilities as well. There will be lots of demands on your time.

The first step is to budget your time realistically.

The advantage of online learning is that most classes are asynchronous; that is, they don’t meet at a specific time. You can study whenever you want wherever you want. Set up a weekly calendar. Fill in the activities that are obligatory, and see what hours are available for you to study. Maybe you’ll have time on your lunch hour. Maybe you can fit in an hour before going to work. Or, like many of us, you may have to study at night after the kids are in bed.

One thing to remember is that, on average, undergraduate courses require 2–3 hours of study outside of class for every hour in class. Most courses are three credits. For online classes, that means that you will have to spend three hours each week reading the online course itself and an additional 6–9 hours “outside of class” working on outside readings, participating in online discussion, and writing papers or doing projects. That totals 9–12 hours per week. If you’re taking two classes, double that figure. That’s a lot of time.

The second step is to be easy on yourself and not get discouraged.

It takes a while to get accustomed to college again. You may be studying a new field. You may not be that familiar with online learning. You have a lot of other responsibilities. While everyone would like to make straight A’s every time, that’s not possible for most of us. It may take you awhile to get used to the subject, the computer, participating online, and juggling school with everything else.

Find someone you can talk to as you tackle this new endeavor. Ask your instructor for help when you need it. Search out the college's resources for helping online students. And remind yourself that a B or even a C is not the end of the world. 

And by setting realistic expectations, you will be able to earn that degree, which can improve your career prospects, and your sense of accomplishment. You can do it!

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