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Career Colleges COVID-19 Online learning

It doesn’t matter where you go to college—really

In a day and age obsessed with getting into the best college, does the decision really matter in the wider scheme of life?

Overall, the answer is no.

This is particularly the case in the age of COVID-19. One survey of college presidents from mid-2020 found that 72 percent are very or somewhat concerned about “a perceived decrease in the value of higher education” because of the virus.

The on-campus frills surrounding college are gone—think of the ivy-covered walls, classroom interactions, the social groups, etc.—all replaced with Zoom classes and online message boards.

As we begin 2021 with the hope that life will eventually return to normal, now is a good day to assess the age-old question of whether the college you choose matters, and if so, how much. We’ll do so in this blog post. Read on!

What about better jobs and income?

First, let’s tackle the earnings question. Depending on your area of study, a degree from a more selective college has no bearing on your future earnings.

For students majoring in science-related fields, there’s no statistically significant difference in earnings between graduates of elite colleges and those from less-selective schools, according to research from Michael Hilmer, an economist at San Diego State University, and Eric Eide and Mark Showalter, economists at Brigham Young University.

The biggest difference in earnings comes for business majors. But even here, students who graduate from elite schools earn, on average, just 12 percent more than their peers at mid-tier schools.

As Elissa Nadworny and Anya Kamenetz write for National Public Radio, “An individual’s choice of major, such as engineering, is a far more powerful factor in her eventual earnings than her choice of college.” One poll found that attending an elite college doesn’t make you happier later in life, either.

And don’t forget that many of the world’s most financially success people—think Steve Jobs and Bill Gates—dropped out of college.

Remember, going to an elite university is more about prestige and social connections than anything else

For wealthy people, college is more about social connections than acquiring knowledge. Granted, those social connections are often the key to getting the right high-paying, influential job after graduation. And many of them do. (The U.S. Supreme Court, for example, is exclusively represented by graduates of the Ivies.)

But if your ultimate goal is to acquire knowledge—and more importantly, to continue to learn how to learn—headed toward a well-paying job in your field, then your choice of college begins to matter less and less.

What’s more, surveys show that hiring managers don’t really care where you went to college—just that you have the hard and soft skills to actually get the job done. Having an Ivy listed on your LinkedIn profile is a definite mental boost (and it can’t hurt during a job hunt), but the cost of getting in and completing a degree isn’t always worth it.

Focus on the main thing

In the vast majority of cases, the name of your college doesn’t matter. What matters is earning the credential. It doesn’t have to be a bachelor’s degree, either. Don’t give in to our culture’s obsession with getting into “the best” college, a preoccupation that needlessly stresses out young people.

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Career Colleges General Interest Online learning

Is self-employment right for you? A guide for distance learners

Being your own boss—at some point, we all dream of it. But so few of us actually take the leap to self-employment. The exciting part is that independent work can be an excellent fit for distance learners.

Regardless of where you are in your education journey—middle school, freshman in high school, on the verge of graduation, or entering college—this blog post provides guidance on the question of whether self-employment is the right choice.

More of us are ‘living the dream’ of self-employment

Independent work has been growing rapidly in recent years across the U.S. Today, there are around 16 million self-employed workers. And there is a lot of diversity here—covering everything from independent contractors and freelancers to “gig” economy workers to business owners. The average income for full-time self-employed workers is around $65,000—for Millennials (those in their late 20s and 30s) the average wage was $43,800.

College completion doesn’t appear to factor into the decision to pursue self-employment, either. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that among those 25 years or older in 2015, self-employment rates were higher for those with a high-school education or less or for individuals with a professional degree. The lowest rates were for those with bachelor’s or master’s degrees.

Millennials and Generation Z (loosely defined as people younger than 40 and older than 10) also show a propensity to lean toward self-employment as a preferred career pathway. So, is self-employment right for you? Read on to find out!

A look at self-employment five years in: My story

First, a quick intro. I’ve devoted my career to online marketing for small and medium-sized businesses and nonprofits. For eight years prior to making the jump to full-time solopreneur in 2015, I worked a traditional 8-to-5 job. While I enjoyed my duties and co-workers, I seldom felt truly stretched and challenged, and I craved more variety in my day-to-day activities. So that prompted me to try something new—voluntarily quitting my day job and launching my own business.

In the past half decade, I’ve nearly tripled my income compared to my old full-time job, had more time off, and enjoyed far more meaningful work. I’ve learned a lot and gained an entirely new perspective that continuing in a traditional employment path couldn’t have given me.

If I can do it, so can your homeschool student! In fact, there are so many ways that home education prepares a young person for the entrepreneurial life. And by entrepreneurial, I don’t mean kickstarting the newest Silicon Valley tech behemoth. It can be something as simple as hanging your shingle as a freelance photographer or programmer, launching a local lawn care business, or a host of other pursuits.

Six ways to know whether self-employment is right for you

#1: You’re a self-starter: When I first made the jump to self-employment, I thought my stress levels would plummet. They definitely declined overall, but I quickly discovered that one type of stress replaced another. True, I no longer had to commute, be at my desk from 8 to 5 each day, deal with office politics, and all the rest. But I did have to “make it all happen” each day. As entrepreneur Neil Patel writes, “To be self-employed is to trade one variety of stress for another.” The wonderful flexibility of self-employment meant that I had to be disciplined—not only to do well on my current projects for clients, but keep a steady stream of new projects in the pipeline for the future. If you’re a natural self-starter, self-employment is probably a good fit.

#2: You value flexibility: If you want to bring a high degree of flexibility into your work one day, self-employment is a wonderful path. Want to take an afternoon off? You don’t have to ask anyone’s permission. You can do it! Just remember that with that flexibility and freedom comes the need for discipline. And although you don’t have a boss in the typical sense of the word, with self-employment you really have a bunch of small “bosses” in the form of your clients! You are still accountable to them.

#3: You have unbridled enthusiasm for a work or business idea: It goes without saying that passion is essential for self-employment. That passion will help you make it through the tough times. It also will help you get up each morning and face challenges with enough resolve to keep moving forward.

#4: You’re comfortable in multiple roles, and can switch between them throughout the day: Regardless of what their core offering is, the self-employed have to wear multiple hats throughout the day: Accountant. Salesman. Project manager. Secretary. Customer service representative. To name just a few. My own workday involves switching between these roles multiple times, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I thrive on the variety. If you prefer a set routine and predictability, the self-employed lifestyle could be a challenge.

#5: You’re OK with risk: We’ve all heard the grim statistic that eight out of 10 entrepreneurs fail within 18 months of starting their businesses. Self-employment definitely carries more risk. That said, trying out self-employment early in a young person’s career gives them a chance to experiment without as much on the line. It’s much better to try and fail in your 20s without dependents, a mortgage, and other obligations. Right now is the optimal time to experiment.

#6: You’re comfortable with sales: A mentor of mine shared some priceless advice a few years back: “David, you’re a writer. But when you go into a job interview or pitch a client, you’re no longer a writer. You’re a salesman.” One of the most challenging aspects of self-employment is that you can’t just be good at your craft—whether that’s photography, programming, roof repair, or anything else. You also have to be an expert at sales. The good news is that sales is an acquired skill, like anything.

Self-employment isn’t for everyone

Of course, independent work isn’t all a bed of roses. Working for yourself means no employer-paid benefits (health insurance and retirement contributions are the big ones), no paid vacation (truly taking time off as a self-employed worker is super challenging), and the potential for a higher tax rate (depending on how a business is structured). But as we’ve explored in this blog post, there are so many upsides. And for distance learners who tend to be naturally self-motivated, the fit can be perfect.

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Family General Interest Online learning

How distance learners can protect their mental health during the COVID-19 pandemic

It’s tough to maintain sanity as a remote learner during the COVID-19 lockdown. It’s clear that this pandemic is having a huge impact on mental health: A Kaiser Family Foundation survey found that over half of U.S. adults (56%) report that worry related to the coronavirus outbreak has caused them stress-induced symptoms like insomnia, poor appetite or overeating, or frequent headaches or stomach aches.

And we are clearly seeing the impacts of social isolation in a 1,000% increase in calls to distress hotlines in April 2020 alone.

Kids and teens are struggling, too. So what strategies can you use to stay mentally healthy during the ongoing pandemic? We’ll suggest several tips in this blog post.

Signs that you’re struggling

According to Mental Health First Aid, look for these indicators:

  • Feeling stressed or overwhelmed, frustrated or angry, worried or anxious.
  • Feeling restless, agitated, on “high alert” or unable to calm down.
  • Being teary, sad, fatigued or tired, losing interest in usually enjoyable activities or finding it difficult to feel happy.
  • Worrying about going to public spaces, becoming unwell or contracting germs.
  • Constantly thinking about the situation, unable to move on or think about much else.
  • Experiencing physical symptoms such as increased fatigue or other uncomfortable sensations.

Here are some tips to help you cope:

1. Keep a regular routine

It can be easy to let a schedule slip during trying times—staying up late, sleeping in, and delaying schoolwork. But creating a routine and sticking to it as much as possible is a big step toward better mental health. At the same time, keep things flexible and give grace to jump off the routine from time to time.

2. Stay connected socially

It goes without saying that one of the biggest downsides of the lockdown is not being able to maintain social connections. Social media can be a good alternative, or you can work to set up social time between friends while practicing social distancing.

3. Grieve your losses

Your family might be directly impacted by COVID-19 through the loss of a loved one. But even the indirect impact of extended lockdowns could mean that you have experienced other types of loss as well. For example, high school seniors are missing out on graduation ceremonies, proms, and other milestones and rites of passage. Even missing the regular routine of regular social activities is hard. Working through these emotions of loss is a big step.

4. Keep moving

One of the best ways to fight the blues is by moving your body. As the weather warms up in a few months across much of the country, outside physical activity will get even easier. Or you can try out one of the countless streaming exercise videos available online.

5. Be OK with things not being perfect

Life will get back to normal eventually, even if it’s a modified “new normal” that looks a bit different than what we’re used to. In the meantime, it’s important that you give yourself room to struggle. Things won’t be perfect, and that’s OK.

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Colleges General Interest Online learning

10 qualities of successful people: A guide for distance learners

Success comes in many different forms. In North America, we tend to define success in monetary and vocational terms—how much you make or how far you’ve advanced in your career. But success extends to so many other areas: relationships, faith, character, and health, to name a few.

As a distance education student, you want to be successful in life. You know that getting there takes hard work. In this blog post, we’ll explore 10 of the top attributes of successful people. Whatever your future plans include as a high-school graduate, these characteristics will serve you well.

1. Resilience

How do you deal with failure? If you’re anything like me, it can be easy to retreat and sulk. But in my better moments, I view failure as a necessary step toward success. “Most great people have attained their greatest success just one step beyond their greatest failure,” said American author Napoleon Hill. A defining characteristic of successful people is their unrelenting habit of bouncing back after failure.

2. Flexibility

The ability to “pivot” is crucial to success. Pivoting simply means that you have the willpower and foresight to release a path you’d planned to walk in order to pursue something better. It’s a scary thing, but this type of flexibility is a trademark of successful people. Flexibility is particularly essential for young people just starting out—you might think you know the right direction to take, but opportunities and life circumstances will present a different way forward.

3. Self-discipline

Flexibility and adaptability might be important, but so is self-discipline and the courage to stick with something even when it’s incredibly hard. Yes, knowing when to quit (or “pivot”) and when to persevere is the real test. But the fact is that so many of us give up well before we should. “With self-discipline, most anything is possible,” said Teddy Roosevelt.

4. Others focused

The most successful people in life are radical servers. They look to meet the needs of others and excel at doing so. It’s counterintuitive that serving others would bring you success, but it’s true. Some practical takeaways from this? A big one is that as you build your network, make your interactions with others about what you can give, not what you can get.

5. Frequent reader

A personal story: I quit my day job in 2015 to launch a full-time self-employed career. In the months leading up to that pivotal decision, I read through a series of crucial books that gave me the knowledge and confidence to make the jump to start my own business, including The 7 Habits of Highly Effective PeopleThe Millionaire Next DoorYour Money or Your Life, and The 4 Hour Workweek. These books gave me the fuel to try something new and expand my horizons. The ultimate lesson? Successful people—think of Bill Gates, Mark Cuban, and Elon Musk—are also habitual readers.

6. Humility

Truly successful people don’t feel the need to boast about their accomplishments. They are secure in themselves and in their abilities. They don’t wear their success on their sleeve. Successful people bring others together to accomplish goals and for the greater good. “With pride comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom,” says Proverbs 11:2.

7. Abundance mindset

An abundance mindset means you believe there are plenty of opportunities and resources in the world for everyone to enjoy. You don’t need to steal success from someone else—when someone else is successful, that doesn’t mean they are taking success from you, and vice versa. An abundance mindset pairs well with resilience, because you realize that failure isn’t final. More opportunities are out there.

8. Calculated risk taking

Playing it safe leads to mediocrity. Most of us with more than a few years under our belt can look back and see that our greatest achievements in life came when we stepped out and took a risk. That being the case, don’t neglect the “calculated” part of this advice. Being a calculated risk taker means that you don’t fly blind—you examine the situation and make the right move, even a bold one, but it’s always grounded in reality, not pie-in-the-sky thinking.

9. Prioritization

We all have a limited amount of resources in our lives, time being the most precious. Figuring out your priorities and sticking with them is a prerequisite for success. Prioritization helps you know when to say yes and when to say no. If you’re anything like me, your to-do list never gets done. That’s why we have to put the highest priority items on the top and focus on those first. Everything lower can wait, or even not get done at all.

10. Love of life-long learning

“Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel,” Socrates said. Education in high school and college is not so much about the knowledge gained‚ as important as that is. It’s more about perfecting the ability to learn—and to continue in that ability for a lifetime.

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Colleges Online learning

It’s almost time for back-to-school: 6 tips to help your student thrive during the COVID-19 crisis

As a parent, you’re likely dealing with concerns about how the COVID-19 crisis is impacting your student. As in all things, opportunities can be found even in the worst of times. It is possible for your student to thrive in the midst of a pandemic, even though society may seem upside down right now. Let’s look at 6 tips for helping your student succeed in a COVID-19 world. 

1. Get out of your home every day

If the weather permits, consider going to a park or on a walk with your student so you can both get some exercise and sunshine, both of which can help fight depression. The benefits of exercise have been shown to improve learning and help with mental health issues such as anxiety, stress, and ADHD. 

While you can’t always spend time outdoors, you should be able to find a place to go. This may be driving or riding with your student around the neighborhood or making a quick trip to a store, even if just to browse. Having a variety of scenery will likely help your student (and you) feel normal, at least in part. 

2. Stay connected with others

If you can’t or are uncomfortable meeting face-to-face with others, your student can stay digitally connected with their teachers, family, and friends. This can be done in a variety of ways, such as FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, or another live-streaming service.

3. Take advantage of free or inexpensive online courses

Now more than ever, online courses that you once needed to pay for are now free or at a reduced cost. While they are geared primarily towards adults, sites like Udemy and Coursera are offering such courses. To find free courses on these sites, simply type in “free” in the search bar. Especially if you have a high school student, you might be able to find something for your student on these sites. 

Lynda.com, which is also targeted towards adults, has similar content to Udemy and Coursera, but you’ll need to become a member to take advantage of their courses. The first month is free.

You could also search for specific tutorials on YouTube. If you don’t already do this, I recommend you screen each video you want to show your student, or at least the YouTube channel that contains the video, before showing it to your student. This is due to the varied nature of YouTube videos, both in terms of quality and content.

4. Make sure to keep communication open between you and your student

Set aside a time at least once a week to sit down with your student and give him or her an opportunity to talk with you one-on-one. The focus here is not on having a conversation, but rather providing an opportunity for a conversation to occur. As such, this time could consist of playing a game, putting together a puzzle, baking something together, or doing another activity your student enjoys. 

If your student doesn’t want to talk much, that’s fine. Providing each student a weekly opportunity to discuss what’s on his or her mind with you can reinforce that they are loved, cared for, and listened to. 

5. Stick to a schedule

Schedules provide a welcomed sense of normalcy for your student. Younger children tend to thrive on repetition and routines. And no matter your student’s age, he or she will likely benefit from a structured schedule. 

If your students are older, you may want them to create their own schedules—from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. They’ll need to block out times for eating, exercising, and resting/doing something fun. You can then look over their schedules and provide feedback. My wife got me hooked on this practice while I work from home, and I’ve personally found it helpful.

6. Have something fun to look forward to

It’s important for your student to have something he or she can look forward to doing, either alone or with others. I recommend having two different types of fun things planned:

  • Fun things planned for each day, such as watching a favorite TV show alone or getting together with friends.
  • Fun things with the family that are planned days, weeks, or months in advance, such as taking a day trip to the beach or staying a few nights at a favorite vacation spot.
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Apprenticeship Colleges Dual Enrollment General Interest

How to work your way through college like a boss

Google the phrase “pay your way through college,” and you’ll be bombarded with a lineup of articles, news stories, and blog posts bemoaning that, in today’s economy, it’s simply impossible. But is it really?

The idea of working your way to an associate’s or bachelor’s degree harkens back to a time when tuition was comparatively cheap matched against median salaries. There’s no doubt about it—the cost of college has risen astronomically. In 1971, a year at Harvard would set you back $2,600. Today, it costs $45,278. If that figure had merely kept pace with inflation, the cost would be only $15,189. Clearly, tuition costs have spiraled out of control.

While college is nowhere near as inexpensive as it used to be, working your way through school isn’t as impossible as pundits would have you believe. Of course, it all depends on how you define “working your way.” It’s true that you can’t work 15 hours a week at minimum wage and expect to cover all your tuition, materials, and living expenses for school. But there are other options.

Here are four tips that can make working your way through school a reality:

1. Public, in-state schools are your best friend

In most cases, you’ll need to stick with a community college or a local state university. Unless you have a job from Daddy Warbucks, you won’t be able to make a private school work.

The numbers are straightforward. Working full-time year-round at the federal minimum wage, you’ll take in $15,080 per year before taxes. That won’t cover the cost of a private school, but it will at state-run schools. Average tuition at a public two-year community college is $3,347; at a four-year college, in-state tuition is $9,139.

Granted, working a full-time schedule while in school is seldom feasible, and you’ll probably need a lot more financial margin than minimum wage allows. But as we’ll explore below, there are other ways to keep costs in line.

2. Stay local, buy cheap

To effectively work your way through school, you’ll probably have to live at home (preferably rent free) and be selective in how you purchase school materials. If you simply can’t live at home, take on two or three roommates and split the rent. In many areas of the country, you’ll be able to live quite cheaply this way.

Another must: purchase your textbooks used, and look for good deals on school supplies and equipment. Don’t be afraid to buy a used laptop—Craiglist is full of them at significant discounts.

Remember, to make this plan work, you’ll have to live like a college student—or at least, how college students used to live! That means keeping your costs low and forgoing luxuries and perks. For some ideas on how to keep costs down, click here.

3. Go online

The popularity of online learning and distance education has exploded during the past decade. Tens of thousands of students are earning degrees exclusively online, while the vast majority of all college students regularly take online classes as part of their degree plan.

Pursuing your degree through distance education can be one of the best ways to make working through school feasible. Online learning allows for expanded schedule flexibility during the day. Even if you work a traditional nine-to-five job, you can get in your classwork in the evenings and on the weekends. How cool is that?

4. Pick up financial aid and scholarships

Don’t just work on the income part of the equation. Also consider ways to reduce your overall tuition costs, either through financial aid or hard-won scholarships. If you can, begin that process in high school. Apply, apply, apply. It just might carve a significant chunk off your tuition bill.

Conclusion

While working your way through school is certainly feasible, remember to keep first things first—your academics are crucial, and you don’t want them to suffer because you’re worn out from burning the candle at both ends working a job.

In fact, the best path might be to work a part-time schedule during the school year (15 to 20 hours per week) and then reorient to a full-time schedule during the summers. Better, if you can find work that is academically and vocationally relevant to your field of study, you’ll come out better prepared for your career.

For more reading on this topic, check out Georgetown University’s report Learning While Earning: The New Normal.

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Accreditation Apprenticeship Colleges Dual Enrollment General Interest

You don’t have to be a genius to speed through college

In 2017, Raven Osborne was one of thousands of students who graduated from Purdue University in Indiana. But something about Raven made her a little bit different—she graduated from Purdue two weeks before she also graduated from high school.

How’d she do it?

Raven began taking dual enrollment classes in eighth grade, eventually moving from her local community college to Purdue. By the time she reached her senior year in high school, she was on track to earn her degree, too. In the fall, she returned to her high school—but this time as a teacher. 

As Raven proved, with persistence and careful planning, it’s possible to earn your college degree in tandem with your high school diploma, saving time and money in the process. Even better, you can start while you’re still in high school. 

If you love the idea of speeding your way through college, here are a few unconventional ideas to help you along the way.

1. Dual enroll in college courses during high school

Generally, high school students may begin dual-enrolling in community college courses during their sophomore year of high school. This allows you to earn both high school and college-level credit on your transcript that may then be transferred to your university of choice. This approach can save you up to a year or more of introductory courses that you won’t have to complete during your freshman year of college.

2. Take Advanced Placement (AP) courses and exams

Challenging and rigorous, AP exams could give you the opportunity to skip remedial college courses and move on to more advanced classes. This could save you a significant amount of time and money in the long run. The main downside to AP exams is that they’re only offered once every year. You’ll have to plan and schedule carefully to make sure you don’t miss the sign-up deadline and the testing date.

3. “CLEP” out of courses

CLEP exams are another method of testing out of certain college courses—and earning class credit in the process. Bear in mind that some colleges don’t accept passing CLEP scores. There are also certain majors and study concentrations that do not offer the option to CLEP out. It’s important to note that CLEPs can render you ineligible for certain scholarships, but the money you save when you test out of classes could be worth the loss.

4. Choose a college that has flexible policies regarding testing out of courses

Not every college accepts exam scores in place of sitting through an actual course. If you’re interested in testing out of some of your classes, do your research beforehand to find out whether it’s allowed at your school of choice. In addition to AP and CLEP exams, there are other tests like the DSST®TECEP®, and UExcel®, which also allow you to essentially build a DIY degree for a fraction of the time and money (you can find a list of additional exams here).

5. Enroll in a college where you can follow a competency-based curriculum

Competency-based higher education has been gaining traction over the past several years, offering college students more flexible options for accelerating their educational experience. The concept of competency-based education is simple: If you’re already familiar with the material in a particular course, you should have the option to test out of it. As an added bonus, many of these degree programs are offered online. Before applying, research the degree requirements and the cost. Some colleges charge a “subscription fee” that could be costly if you don’t complete your course work in a timely manner.

6. Plan your course load carefully and far in advance

If you’re attending a traditional college, take a careful look at the course catalog and make notes regarding what classes are required for your degree, and when they’re offered. Some courses are only offered every other year (and sometimes, only odd- or even-numbered years!), so you’ll want to carefully consider where those classes fit in. One or two poorly-planned course enrollments could cost unnecessary time and money, so consult your catalog and your advisor to make long-term plans for accelerating your degree progress.

7. Take as many classes as possible per semester

Another way to shorten the total amount of time you spend in college is by taking a heavier course load than the average recommended load (12 credit hours, or four courses). Try your hand at taking five or six courses (15 or 18 credits) instead. Be cautious not to overload and burn yourself out—only you know what will work best for you as a student.

8. Participate in a portfolio review

As you build a portfolio of work samples in college (particularly in design, fine arts, architecture, etc.), add them to your digital portfolio and plan to attend at least one portfolio review session. Some colleges offer portfolio review days—a day similar to a job fair, where employers meet with students for short interviews and rapid-fire portfolio review. When you participate in portfolio review, you’ll sharpen your professional-level interview skills, as well as share your work samples and resume with potential employers. With viable work samples and interview experience under your belt, you might decide to accept a job offer before you’ve completed your degree.

9. Opt for an alternate route

One size does not fit all. Some students may not wish to attend college and opt to build their careers in a different way. Programs like UnCollege provide students with the opportunity to explore their passions and interests, build a skill set that compliments those passions, and gain experience where they put their skills to work in an internship environment. Other students may enter the workforce after high school based on their experience and work samples alone.

The bottom line

Accelerating the college experience is definitely possible, and any combination of the above methods could be right for you. As you choose your path, research carefully to avoid any of the potential pitfalls of each option. With cautious consideration, strategy, and meticulous planning, you can fast-track your way to a degree and move on to build your dream career.

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Colleges General Interest

The secrets to graduating from college in four years (or less)

Is the “four-year college degree” a misnomer in the modern day and age? In many ways, the answer is yes. Only a fraction of college students actually graduates in four years or less, and many take six years or more. Common reasons for the delay include frequently switching majors or schools, taking unnecessary courses that don’t count toward a degree, and working part- or full-time.

There are a variety of reasons why staying on schedule for a four-year graduation is a wise plan. Finances is a big one. A 2013 report from the University of Texas at Austin found that students who graduate on time spend 40 percent less than those who graduate in six years.

If you’re taking on student loan debt, the figures are even more grim. “According to data from Temple University in Philadelphia and from the University of Texas, Austin, two extra years on campus increases debt by nearly 70 percent,” reports The New York Times. Worse, you might lose financial aid or scholarships if you fail to take a benchmarked number of courses each semester. An analysis from NerdWallet pegged the total cost of graduating in six years rather than four at $300,000 in additional tuition, lost income and retirement savings, and loan interest.

Failing to graduate on time also has career implications. By remaining in school additional years, would-be graduates forego earnings in jobs they would have ostensibly accrued, as pointed out by this report from the Brookings Institution.

So, how do you keep on a four-year track? Here are seven quick tips.

1. Create a plan

Work with a guidance counselor or academic advisor to map out the required load of credit hours for your degree, and then determine how many credit hours you need to take each semester. 120 credits for eight semesters factors out to an average of 15 credits per semester, or around five courses worth three credit hours each. How will you allocate these? Having a plan on paper will increase the likelihood of sticking to it.

2. If you change majors, do it within the same career field

This helps because most (or all) of your credits will transfer. While this is generally sound advice, don’t let it dissuade you from pursuing a degree change up that will better fit your life and career. The extra time, effort, and cost could be worth it. If you do decide to switch majors, it’s self-evident that doing so earlier rather than later is best.

3. Be wise in your selection of courses

This tip can be rolled into creating a plan for college career, but it’s important enough to highlight individually. While taking a handful of fun elective courses can be good for both your life and career, always weigh the time and money cost. It’s generally good to avoid taking classes you don’t need. Research from the nonprofit Complete College America found that students seeking a bachelor’s degree ended up accruing an average of 136.5 credit hours before graduating (rather than the required 120 credits). That’s a full half semester of extra work!

4. Don’t change schools midstream

As with switching majors, changing colleges is a surefire way to stall your college career as well. Sometimes it makes sense to change colleges—maybe your goals and interests have changed—but always consider the cost and ensure your reasons make sense. Depending on your new school, some of the credits might not transfer. Not to mention the cost and hassle of applying for a new school.

5. Don’t work too much

We’ve argued elsewhere that paying your way through college can be done—and can actually be a good thing—but it can also get in the way of graduating on time. So consider this additional factor. It’s important to note that work experience and internships can end up benefiting you greatly, even if they delay your graduation. They can particularly help with securing a job post-graduation. So they are still well worth checking out. Just integrate them into your graduation and career plans.

6. Earn college credit while still in high school

The opportunities are varied: Take AP courses, pursue duel enrollment, take CLEP (College-Level Examination Program) courses, and investigate International Baccalaureate programs. Banking lots of college credit as a high schooler might even mean you can graduate earlier than four years—a major plus!

7. Get credit for previous work experience

Some colleges offer portfolio review, where you accrue credit for previous experience that amounts to college-level mastery of a certain topic. Although it takes lots of work researching and creating the portfolio, the feeling of seeing credits rack up for past work is definitely a good one.

Conclusion

A final thought: Students will need support from their academic institutions in finishing in four years or less, so always be sure to know what an institution’s four-year graduation rate is. This helpful PDF from the College Board shows the average rates at many large schools across the 50 states. A school’s rate suggests how much support you can expect in trying to graduate on time. Good luck!

Categories
Colleges General Interest

For homeschool families: A primer on distance education for college

If there’s one thing America is known for, it’s options. Whether it’s toothpaste, ice cream, craft beers, mortgages, or cars, the vast array of choices can be overwhelming.

Of course, the same can be said for education options beyond high school. There are vocational and industry-specific schools that train people for specialized jobs. And there are cost-effective community colleges offering two-year degrees that lay the foundation for further study. More traditionally, there are private and public four-year colleges and universities offering a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate degrees in fields like law, business, and medicine. 

Into this mix, however, is a new kid on the block—online distance learning. And while each of the above platforms offers education in a specific niche, each is jumping into online learning—fueled by the explosive growth of Internet and mobile technology.

While in the past distance learning was dominated by older, married working professionals enrolled at for-profit institutions or taking correspondence courses to achieve career-focused credentials, today’s distance learner is younger, more diverse, and motivated by a wide range of college and career goals that can be met by full-fledged undergraduate and graduate degree programs.   

And whereas only 10 years ago two million Americans were online students, today this number has nearly quadrupled to more than seven million. In fact, one-third of U.S college students now take at least one course entirely online—a paradigm shift in education.  

With so many distance-learning options now available, finding the best online college can be tough. In this blog post, we’ll focus on four-year online programs and share information to help you decide which option is best for you and your family.

Benefits of distance ed

There are many benefits to online learning offered by four-year colleges and universities, including program breadth, faculty support, and lower costs. Here, public four-year institutions have an edge because they tend to have large student populations and usually offer the widest range of academic options—including extensive human and technological resources to facilitate learning on multiple levels and in various learning modes.

Given this, many public universities have more online learning options—from introductory 100-level courses to those at the graduate level. And near-24/7 tech support and other resources make it easier for online students to get help when needed, enabling students to finish a degree program and graduate with little more than a laptop and Internet connection.

The bottom line is that online education offers students with strong self-discipline and study skills unmatched flexibility in pursuing a degree program.

Is distance ed right for you?

According to Affordable College Online, there are eight important questions that must be answered—with “yes” to at least six—before enrolling in an online program:

  1. Do you have access to a computer and Internet connection?
  2. Can you work independently with little direction?
  3. Are you comfortable with simple technologies, including email and word processing?
  4. Are you motivated to succeed?
  5. Do you have solid communication skills, especially in writing?
  6. Do you have a high school diploma or GED?
  7. Are you comfortable participating in online discussion?
  8. Can you work on a computer multiple hours per day?

10 of the best distance ed programs

In deciding which colleges are best, a number of factors come into play depending on your priorities—including academic excellence, faculty strength, student-teacher ratio, financial aid, and tuition costs. For some, additional considerations such as religious affiliation, online instruction methods, reputation, and awards are important—as are specialized programs for veterans, nursing, information technology, criminal justice, education, engineering, and MBAs.

Although several groups offer annual rankings, we think Affordable College Online’s 100-point scorecard of the Best Online Colleges is particularly helpful. Here’s its Top 10 list for 2016:

1. University of Illinois—Springfield (98.79)

With a student-teacher ratio of 13:1, University of Illinois—Springfield consistently ranks high for small class size and personalized attention for students. 96% of students at this low-to moderately priced school receive financial aid and popular undergraduate majors are computer science, business administration, mathematics, and liberal studies.

2. Fayetteville State University (98.21)

While students may be concurrently enrolled in lower-level community college courses at partnering institutions, FSU specializes in upper-level courses for students who have already completed core graduation requirements. With a 17:1 student/faculty ratio, this low-priced schools offers eight- and 16-week formats requiring students to follow strict schedules—rather than at their own pace. With 96% of students receiving financial aid, popular majors include criminal justice, sociology, psychology, business administration, nursing (RN to BSN), fire and emergency services, and elementary education.

3. Liberty University (97.50)

One of the world’s largest universities—thanks in no small part to its 100% online program offering—Christian-based Liberty has an 18:1 student/faculty ratio and boasts highly ranked at the undergraduate, graduate, and doctoral levels. Beyond this, it offers credit-transfers from other institutions to accelerate time to graduation, and 95% of students receive financial aid. Although slightly above mid-range in terms of price, Liberty also accepts professional experience in major fields.

4. Marylhurst University (97.31)

Marylhurst’s very low student/faculty ratio of 6:1 is one of the lowest in the nation. Although relatively more expensive than average, 100% of its students receive financial aid. And its undergraduate and graduate degree programs allow students flexibility to take courses entirely online, on campus, or through a hybrid of both formats. Up to 45 credits for previous work can be applied toward online degrees, and areas of specialty include business management, real estate, interdisciplinary studies, English literature, new media and various MBA programs.

5. Washington University – St. Louis (97.30)

Although at the high end in terms of affordability, 55% of Washington University’s students receive financial aid.  Its award-winning professional and continuing education programs can be completed entirely online or through a hybrid of distance and on-campus activities. And with a low 8:1 student/teacher ratio, WU’s top-ranked undergraduate programs include communications, English, global leadership, history, international studies, math, and psychology. In addition, it offers a specialized MS in biology designed for science teachers. 

6. Hodges University (97.05)

Priced in the low-moderate range, Hodges University offers a 14:1 student/faculty ratio and “Upower” programs allowing students to complete undergraduate and graduate degrees entirely online at their own pace. Focusing on technology, programs include computer information technology, computer networking, cybersecurity and forensics, digital design and graphics, and software development. Also offered are BS degrees in management, marketing and branding, legal studies, health services administration and business administration—as well as graduate-level MBA, MIS, and MPA degrees. 99% of its students receive financing. 

7. Missouri Valley College (96.85)

Out of the many online undergraduate programs offered by MVC, two in particular are highly recognized—their BA degrees in business administration and psychology. Missouri Valley College also offers a program leading to as Associate of Applied Science in health information systems. With a 14:1 student/teacher ratio, MVC falls in the upper-moderate price range. However, 100% of students receive financial aid. 

8. Northeastern University (96.79)

Although at the top end of the price range, 77% of Northeastern online students receive financial aid, and its 13:1 student/faculty ratio is competitive. With more than 75 online degree programs to choose from, NU is highly acclaimed for flexibility with its bachelor’s, master’s, doctorate, and graduate certificate programs—with special expertise in interdisciplinary bachelor’s programs in environmental studies, urban ecology, wetlands and coastal ecology, physical anthropology, health issues, and environmental disasters. 

9. Belhaven University (96.78)

As the second Christian-based school in the Top 10, Belhaven offers nine online bachelor’s degrees and 20 master’s degrees and advanced certificates. With a 12:1 student/teacher ratio, its online business education programs have received national recognition—with an emphasis in operations management, marketing, finance, business law, computer applications, business communications, organizational behavior, and international business. While Belhaven falls in the upper-moderate price range, 100% of its students receive financial aid. 

10. University of Louisville (96.61)

With prices in the low-moderate range, University of Louisville online students have the benefit of an 11:1 student/teacher ratio—with the same high-quality faculty that lecture on-campus. Another benefit is that 97% of online students receive financial aid. Beyond this, UL offers a wide range of programs, including bachelor’s degrees in nursing, communication, criminal justice, and organizational leadership and learning. At the graduate level, master’s degrees are available in criminal justice, social work, special education, higher education administration, computer science, civil engineering, engineering management, and human resources and organizational development. 

Conclusion

No longer on the fringes of formal education, online learning is now front and center in the digitally driven 21st century. As such, it offers students of all ages a wide range of opportunities to acquire the necessary skills for success in your chosen field. Use this list and the links included here to do your homework and find an online learning option that works best for you.

Categories
Colleges Dual Enrollment General Interest

10 of the best community colleges in the U.S.

Have you considered community college? The idea might be foreign to you, and for good reason. Traditionally, community colleges have carried a stigma that identifies them as a less-than-optimal choice compared to four-year schools. In some cases, that stigma is deserved. But like any college—community-level, state run, or private—some schools are poor, some are mediocre, and some are fantastic.

So don’t rule out community colleges! The benefits of attending these local schools can be enormous. Here are three reasons:

  • Cost savings: Tuition at public community colleges averages $3,520 per year, nearly a third of the average tuition at a public four-year university (and a fraction of the cost of a typical private college).
  • Easier transition: Smaller class sizes, a location close to home, and a solid array of prerequisite courses make community colleges an easy transition point from high school to college.
  • Keeps your options open: Going to a community college now doesn’t mean you can’t transfer to a four-year school later. But it does offer added flexibility—you can more easily attend part-time while working an internship or apprenticeship in your field of study. You can also take dual enrollment courses while still in high school.

There are two excellent pathways through community college: one is to obtain a two-year associate’s degree, the other to transfer to a four-year university. The second of these options—to transfer—can be both a money and time saver for many students. You can eliminate prerequisite courses at a community college and save a bundle by doing so. Just ensure that your credits will transfer to your four-year institution.

Earning a two-year degree from a community college can also be a plus. Pick the right area of focus, and you can out-earn holders of bachelor’s degrees right out of the gate. (Yes, it’s true.)

Attending a community college doesn’t rule out a four-year bachelor’s degree for another reason—an increasing number of community colleges actually offer in-demand bachelor’s degrees! In fact, community colleges in 21 states now confer these types of degrees.

In my own case, I accrued around 70 credit hours from local community colleges in North Carolina before transferring most of those courses to a four-year school (Thomas Edison State College) to get a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Only three of those credit hours didn’t transfer. Not a bad deal considering how much I saved on tuition.

Moving past the stigma associated with many community colleges opens up a whole new world. And to make finding the best of the best easier, we’ve compiled a short list of some of the most outstanding community colleges in the country below.

Every two years, the Aspen Institute—a think-tank based in Washington, D.C., that studies education policy—hands out prizes for the most amazing community colleges in the country. Here are the 2015 winners:

Conclusion

It’s time to break stereotypes surrounding community colleges. These schools aren’t only for students who have low GPAs or come from low-income backgrounds. They can be a smart and savvy way for students of all economic backgrounds and achievement levels (including high achievers) to begin their journey to higher education success.