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Career Colleges COVID-19 Dual Enrollment Family Finances General Interest Online learning

8 great benefits of distance learning

Is distance learning right for you?

This is something you may have said (or thought) if you’re considering a college. At The Distance Learner, we obviously think distance learning can be a good idea for a lot of students. 

Why? Here are eight benefits we think you’ll like.

1. It typically costs less

Did you know that distance learning is often less expensive than in-classroom learning? This makes sense, since you’re not paying for the upkeep of classroom buildings or maintenance fees for keeping the college looking spick and span.

So save some money where you can. Life typically only gets more expensive.

2. It requires no driving

Speaking of saving, distance learning cuts back on travel costs. If you have a car, you’ll save money on gas, oil, and general wear-and-tear. If you don’t have a car, you’ll save on your bus fare (or at least not have to worry about getting a ride from someone else).

Also, there’s the whole “no-traffic” thing. So if you’re a big fan of sitting in traffic, distance learning may not be for you!

3. It’s flexible

The benefits of a flexible learning schedule rely on knowing what time(s) of day you think best. So say you’d rather have your mornings off to go for a jog or you’d rather take a break in the afternoon to play a video game. Distance learning gives you the flexibility to do this.

4. It’s great if you have a job

This flexibility is especially useful if you have a job. Whether you’re working part-time or full-time, distance learning lets you do the work when you can. You are not beholden to the class schedules of in-classroom learning. So if you want to get some work experience while you’re in school, distance learning may be the route to take.

5. It allows you to learn at your own pace

If you’re like me, you need only a little bit of time for studying English and history courses, but you need an exorbitant amount of time for studying math courses. With remote learning, you can learn at your own pace. This gives you greater control over your education.

6. It allows you to learn just about anywhere

Want to view lectures at your momma’s house as you wait for a delicious, home-cooked meal? You’ll likely be able to do this, provided she has decent Internet service.

Maybe you prefer going to class out in your yard where your home’s Wi-Fi is still good enough to watch lectures. This is possible through the magic of distance learning. 

7. It can help you get better at time-management skills

Learning how to manage your time is especially important for folks who are used to having someone else dictate their schedule, like their high school or parents. But time-management skills are a necessary part of any professional’s life, and the flexibility and self-paced nature of distance learning can help you hone these skills. 

For instance, employers are increasingly allowing their teams to set their own working hours. Since you have been setting your own schedule via distance learning, you should have no problem with doing this. 

8. It prepares you for remote employment

In the age of COVID-19, more and more businesses are going remote (or at least partially remote). Remote work is a trend that likely won’t go away when the pandemic ends. This is where distance learning plays a key role: It gets you used to the idea of working remotely.  

That means you are:

  • Learning how to be comfortable with working online
  • Learning how to collaborate with classmates
  • Learning how formal email etiquette works

These are all skills that are useful for working in a remote position.

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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 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 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.