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Career Colleges General Interest Online learning

Here’s how to stress less about college applications

Applying to college—whether you’re a parent or student, it can be hugely stressful. Information overload, looming deadlines, and attempts to submit the perfect application can weigh you down, creating a pressure-cooker of anxiety. Fortunately, there are some ways your family can work together to keep your cool and avoid burnout during this hectic season. We’ll explore a few of them in this blog post.

For students


1. Start early and prioritize your time

It’s a good idea to start thinking about college applications well before you reach your senior year, but if you’re already there, take a deep breath and set small, actionable goals that can be completed from week to week. Give yourself deadlines for getting each college application and admissions essay done, and schedule time to work on them every day (you might even want to consider doing these before school starts to keep from overloading yourself). Stick to your schedule to prevent everything from piling up at the last minute, and you’ll avoid unnecessary stress.

2. Pay attention to deadlines

Standardized tests, applications, financial aid forms, and more have strict deadlines you’ll have to abide by if you want a shot at getting accepted by your schools of choice. When you set your schedule and application goals, keep these deadlines in mind and plan your process accordingly. The last thing you want to do is miss out on applying to your dream school because the deadline passed you by.

3. Apply to a variety of colleges

If you have one ideal “dream college” in mind, great—but expand your options to include other great schools, too. No one wants to be rejected by their top choice, but the reality is that rejection is a possibility, so it’s best to do your research and choose several other colleges that appeal to you. Choose some “safety,” “target,” and “reach” schools for the best mix of possibilities.

4. Don’t compare yourself to your peers

One of the hardest things about college application season is wondering how you stack up against your friends and peers. It might be tempting to discuss your college applications with your friends, but if you want to cut down on stress, it’s probably best to avoid it. Don’t make the mistake of second-guessing your choices and competing with your peers; just focus on the task at hand and get those applications out the door.

For parents


1. Don’t pressure your student for perfection

These days, parents agonize more than ever over whether their students will get accepted to the most prestigious schools. They not only drive their students to overachieve by overloading themselves with extracurricular activities and advanced classes; they also push their students into the mindset that the best opportunities for their future only come through illustrious, well-known institutions. Take a step back and a deep breath—your student’s future is bright, with or without an Ivy League admission. Instead, help your student embrace the idea of applying to multiple colleges, and take rejections in stride. Before long, this season will be a distant memory.

2. Let your student lead the application process

Your student should not depend on you to write his or her admissions essays or take control of the application process. While it’s important to be a cheerleader and source of support and assistance, this is about your student’s future—so encourage him or her to hold the reins and take responsibility for next steps. Taking ownership of the admissions process will empower your student as he or she makes the transition out of high school and into the adult world. And, it will take a load off your shoulders to see that your student is fully capable of driving the process.

3. Deal with the financial details

Your student isn’t likely to have dealt with the family finances, so it’s important for you take a lead role in researching tuition, filling out financial aid forms, and getting a handle on what the costs will look like for each of your student’s college choices. Keep the stress of college applications as low as possible by gathering as many details about finances and costs as possible. While it may be necessary to discuss a doable range of costs with your student while he or she builds a list of colleges, don’t burden him or her with unnecessary details.

4. Don’t go it alone

If you get stuck, don’t be afraid to ask for help—or even to hire an independent guidance counselor who can walk you and your student through the application process. You can also gather helpful information from the schools themselves, at events like open houses and college fairs. Other parents with college students can be a great source of information and direction, so don’t be afraid to reach out if you have questions.

The bottom line

When it comes to college applications, there seems to be an endless stream of details to manage. Make deadlines and achieve your goals by taking one day at a time and keeping the big picture in mind.

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Career Colleges Dual Enrollment Finances

The 5 biggest mistakes I made as a distance learner in college

The COVID-19 pandemic has taken remote learning fully mainstream. We can now see that millions of students—whether in a K-12 school or at college—can learn skills and obtain credentialing exclusively via the Internet. And thrive doing it!

That’s not to say that distance learning doesn’t pose its challenges. It definitely does.

I know firsthand. When I graduated from high school in 2003, the world of online learning for college was relatively new. Just under 2 million students were studying virtually at the time, compared to 6.6 million in 2017.

But I jumped in with both feet, enrolling in a community college distance-education program in early 2004.

Overall, my experience was fantastic and I’m thankful for it. 

But as you can imagine, I had plenty of missteps along the way. I’ll share them in this blog post—hopefully giving you the chance to avoid the same mistakes in your own distance-learning journey.

Mistake #1: Taking too long to commit to a career

Don’t get me wrong: I’m a big advocate of using your teens and early 20s to experiment and discover the best career path for you. But you need focus and an endpoint or else you’ll waste time. I certainly did.

After I graduated from high school in May 2003, I knew that college was in my future. I wanted to earn a credential in order to support a family one day. But I also had a dream of publishing my first novel and becoming a full-time fiction author (preferably bestselling, of course). 

My initial plan was to bypass school and shoot for the stars with this dream—what ended up being a foolish goal. My dream was great, but it needed to be based in reality. I could have pursued my writing passion while enrolled in college and working. Instead, I floundered for months trying to finish my novel and get it published, all unsuccessfully. 

It wasn’t until early 2004 that I actually enrolled in community college and got a job. Even then, I took a small number of courses and worked only part time, continuing to pursue my dream.

Two years later in 2006, I finally realized that fiction author would not be my career trajectory, at least not right now. By then, I had only earned a small number of college credits.

The upside is that when I did finally commit to my college studies and pursue them with vigor, a career path quickly emerged that I love—and one that pays the bills!

The bottom line: Explore your career options and dream a little bit, but stay grounded. If you do want to pursue a dream—say becoming a writer or a professional musician—continue to work on your more practical alternatives at the same time.

Mistake #2: Not following an accelerated path sooner

All told, it took me six years to earn my bachelor’s degree. That’s a full year longer than the national average of five years, which itself is hardly an impressive number. Even worse, I only worked part-time during this period. I was spinning my wheels and wasting time.

That reality struck me in mid 2008 when I took stock of my credits earned toward a bachelor’s degree: In the prior five years, I had netted only 70 credit hours. That was just over half of the requirement for a bachelor’s degree.

The one thing I am proud of: Over the next 10 months, I kicked into high gear and knocked out the remaining requirements for my degree through a combination of CLEP tests, portfolio review, and condensed three-month courses. (All of this came through Thomas Edison State University, which has a robust online learning program.) In April 2009, I officially graduated with a BA in journalism.

Imagine the possibilities if I’d followed an accelerated path in early 2004 when I was just starting out. (For more on this, read You don’t have to be a genius to speed through college).

Mistake #3: Not taking distance learning seriously enough

Remote learners know that discipline is mandatory. You don’t have a set time to be in class, so you have to find international motivation to get your studies done. 

Early on, I was pretty bad about practicing this habit. I never set a daily schedule, let alone short- or long-term goals. As a result, I floundered quite a bit.

What’s my advice for avoiding the same mistake?

Begin by deciding what hours of the day you’ll study and then protecting that chunk of time no matter what. These “core hours” could be something as traditional as 10am to 3pm. If you’re an early bird, 5am 10am—or 10pm to 3am if you’re a night owl! 

That isn’t to say you won’t study outside of these hours, but having the discipline of this time reserved exclusively for schoolwork—day in and day out—will serve you well.

Another must do: Work with advisors at your college to map out a clear academic path toward your degree, with dates plugged in. Even if you’re still deciding on a major, the first two years of a bachelor’s degree are usually prerequisites, anyway. Having it on paper will give you some long-term accountability as you advance toward a degree.

Mistake #4: Being too reticent to ask questions

Clear communication would’ve made my distance learning journey so much better. Truth is, I was flying blind for most of it. Looking back, it’s fortunate that I didn’t waste more time and money due to my reticence to ask questions and seek clarity.

For example, I was blessed that all but three credit hours from my community college years transferred over to my four-year school and counted toward my bachelor’s degree. I never clarified that this would be the case prior to taking the classes. The scenario could just have easily been that half of my credits wouldn’t transfer, sinking years of learning and thousands of dollars down the drain.

I also never took advantage of the college and career counseling resources available to me at my colleges. These counselors can help you map out a plan for your degree and offer suggestions for alternatives if you’re not sure what you want to do.

In sum: Don’t be afraid to ask questions like I was. Clear communication is essential for any part of life, but especially for distance learning since you don’t have the benefit of in-person contact with your advisors and teachers.

Mistake #5: Remaining socially isolated

Online learning meant that I didn’t have access to the same social connections as students enrolled in traditional colleges. Looking back, I spent most of my college years lacking regular, meaningful social connections. 

As a distance learner, I should have done a better job thinking creatively about ways to connect with other learners my age—for example, through local meet-ups or a church college and career group. Interacting with my instructors and fellow students online was fine, but nothing beats in-person relationships. They should be a priority.

Of course, that’s even harder in today’s world of pandemic social distancing. But as our world slowly begins to return to a new normal in the coming months and years, making in-person social interaction a priority for distance learners will be essential.

Wrapping up: A distance ed degree is worth it

This blog post has been devoted to regrets and mistakes. Here is one thing I don’t regret: Earning my degree online in the first place. Even though I made plenty of errors along the way, distance learning allowed me to obtain a credential in a field I love, get practical experience while I studied, and keep costs to a minimum (my bachelor’s degree ended up costing less than $10,000, all told).

Today, I’ve been working over 13 years in the same field I studied for (journalism and marketing communications) and loving every minute of it. I look back with fondness on my college years, particularly the latter half when I accelerated my learning and had true focus.

So, that’s my story. What about yours? If you’re a distance learning graduate, post your experience in the comments below. Or if you’re currently learning remotely and have questions for me, ask away. In any case, best of luck as you pursue your studies!

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Apprenticeship Career Colleges Finances General Interest

5 ways to use 2021 to become a lifelong learner

The primary purpose of education isn’t to impart knowledge. Instead, its purpose is to teach you how to learn.

Does that concept sound like the utterings of a ninja master to his young apprentice? 

For sure!

And at first look, it may even sound nonsensical. After all, when we think of K-12 schooling or a college education, our thoughts immediately turn to mastering grammar or memorizing equations in mathematics.

But particularly in our modern economy that is so knowledge-based and rapidly changing, the ability to be a lifelong learner is crucial. Graduating from school with mastery of a set of information is important, but what’s more crucial is leaving with a toolbox of resources for ongoing learning.

“The most critical role for K-12 educators … will be to equip young people with the curiosity and passion to be lifelong learners who feel ownership over their education,” writes columnist Thomas Friedman in The New York Times. Or, as business expert Peter Drucker put it, “The most pressing task is to teach people how to learn.”

An advantage for distance learners

Lifelong learning is mandatory for high school graduates if you want to be successful in your career and your life. Most areas of our economy change rapidly—often from year to year, but definitely from decade to decade. This is particularly true of technical occupations. So in this way, how far you go in your career is dependent on how well you learn new skills and concepts along the way, not just in school.

The great news is that distance learners are accustomed to taking responsibility for their own learning, especially in the high school years. You already have a strong foundation for becoming a lifelong learner. 

To help you cultivate that ability even more, here are 5 tips to put into practice for 2021.

1. Stay curious

Curiosity is the foundation of lifelong learning. To cultivate curiosity, ask plenty of questions and listen carefully to the answers. Aim to read two books a month, and keep a running list of books you would like to read in the near future. Step out of your comfort zone and seek to solve complicated, even thorny problems.

2. Be humble and teachable

It goes without saying that teachability ranks high on the list of attributes of genuine lifelong learners. Understand that no matter how advanced you get in a given area of life, you’ve never fully arrived. You can always learn more. That level of humility will serve you well.

3. Accept responsibility for your own learning

Distance learners have a big advantage in this area. Self-directed learning is a hallmark of distance learning for high school students. The flexibility of online learning—existing outside the rigid structure of a traditional classroom environment—helps students more easily own their educational outcomes and not rely on teachers to learn everything. As a distance learning graduate, take that same sense of responsibility for your own learning with you as you launch into adult life.

4. Launch a major project

Personally, I find this one of the best ways to practice the art of lifelong learning. Envisioning and launching a larger scale project—it could be a business, a personal hobby, or something entirely different—is an excellent way to keep your mental faculties sharp and to stretch the boundaries of what you think is possible.

5. Schedule time in your week for ongoing learning

I set a goal in 2021 to read 10 self-improvement books. Creating a benchmark like this is a good place to start, but lifelong learning will look different for each person. Maybe for you it means mastering a new hobby, earning a certification online, or attending a workshop. Remember, as the great inspirational writer and speaker Dale Carnegie said, “Learning is an active process. We learn by doing. Only knowledge that is used sticks in your mind.”

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Career Colleges Finances General Interest Online learning

Should you pursue an advanced degree in college?

Earning an advanced degree can be a tremendous career booster for distance learning students. Enrolling in medical school, law school, or graduate school to pursue a post-graduate or professional degree could set you up for success.

An advanced degree can open many doors for you, and in some cases, has the potential to help you earn upward of six figures after college. Through careers in medicine, law, engineering, aerospace, and many others, you have the chance to make a positive and far-reaching impact on the world.

So, is it worth it to pursue an advanced degree in college? Let’s look at a few important considerations you needs to keep in mind while making the decision.

1. Extra time spent in school

It takes two to four years to earn an undergraduate degree, depending on what you chooses to study. An advanced degree takes significantly longer than the initial degree.

Here’s a quick snapshot of how long it takes to earn certain common post-graduate degrees:

  • Law: 3 years
  • Master’s degree: up to 2 years
  • Medicine: 4 years plus residency (up to 7 additional years)
  • Nurse Practitioner: 2 to 4 years
  • Ph.D.: 8 years, on average, after earning a Master’s

You will want to consider the amount of time it takes to earn a chosen degree. While many advanced degrees are worth the time and effort required, some are not—and it will be important to know which degrees are the most lucrative.

2. Expense

Depending on the degree you choose, post-graduate education costs significantly more than an undergraduate degree. Graduate degrees can cost tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans, depending on a number of factors, including:

  • The school you attend and any name recognition associated with it
  • The degree you pursue (for example, a Ph.D. costs more than a Master’s degree)
  • The location of your college

Thankfully, certain financial aid programs, such as getting a graduate assistantship, are available to some students to lighten the financial burden.

3. Return on investment (ROI)

Graduate school will likely leave you with a significant amount of student loan debt. Because of this, it’s important that you focus on a course of study in a lucrative field that will help you pay back loans over time.

Choosing an advanced degree that will prepare you for financial success is extremely important. You can find resources on high-paying advanced degrees herehere, and here.

Some professions that require graduate degrees and pay well include:

  • Physician
  • Lawyer
  • Dentist
  • Nurse anesthetist
  • Aerospace engineer
  • Computer scientist
  • Optometrist
  • MBA
  • Pharmacist

4. Long-term career viability

When it comes to an advanced degree, high ROI goes hand-in-hand with the idea of choosing a degree with long-term career viability. You need to gather as much information as possible regarding how viable your degree may be in years to come.

Another way to think about this is to consider whether the degree is likely to be recession-proof. If you choose to study law, medicine, or IT, for example, you are more likely to be able to continue working even in difficult economic times.

It takes many years to earn an advanced graduate degree. Look for a field that will stand the test of time—the investment could absolutely be worth it.

The bottom line

There are many factors to consider as you make all-important career decisions that will impact your adult life. Earning an advanced degree could be an excellent opportunity for you to excel and share your unique gifts with others.

If you as a distance learner decide to pursue an advanced degree in college, then choosing a viable career with a good ROI is crucial, no matter what. As you make decisions on where to enroll, take overall expenses, student loan debt, and the time required to earn the degree into account. All those factors will help you choose the right graduate school.