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An 8-step distance learning productivity schedule that will help you get the most out of your day

We all want to make the best use of our days. But as a remote learner, that goal can be tricky. It takes a lot of self-motivation and self-discipline to be successful. The great news is that there are a few tips and tricks you can implement to make the journey easier.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, that’s the topic of this blog post. Based on my own experience as a remote learner through college—plus the experience and wisdom of others—I’ve compiled eight steps to help you become a more productive learner. 

Let’s get started!

1. Block out specific hours of the day for learning

As a remote learner, it’s entirely possible to match the productivity of a traditional learner sitting in a classroom. In fact, it’s entirely possible to exceed that level. All it takes is having the right structure in place and the discipline to stick to it.

“Time blocking” is one building block for successful distance learning. Since you’re learning remotely, you’ll have a lot of distractions around you each and every day. That is why you need core study hours during the day.

Begin by thinking through what your typical week looks like as a distance learner: When you need to be in Zoom classroom meetings, what time and day assignments are due, when you need to participate in discussion chats or boards, etc. Then build your core hours around that.

The process could be as simple as blocking out 10am to 3pm as core study time where you will not be interrupted or take care of other tasks. Then divide those chunks up by your various classes.

Many people find this “blocking” approach easier to maintain than keeping a lengthy to-do list. Try it out and see how it works for you!

2. Eat a healthy breakfast

I’m not trying to sound like your mom, but this one really is important. Even if you’re not a morning or breakfast person, getting in a healthy first meal of the day will set you up for success. “Research shows skipping breakfast negatively affects short term memory and foregoes a boost in cognitive performance, precursors to productivity,” writes Scott Mautz at Inc.

If you’re anything like me, you also need a jolt of caffeine to get started. It’s never a good idea to down that cup of coffee or tea on an empty stomach, though. Be sure to get protein, starch, and add in some healthy fruits for good measure—all to maintain level energy throughout your morning.

3. Try intermittent fasting

I just told you not to skip breakfast, now I’m suggesting you skip meals. What gives? Bear with me.

If you’re not familiar with the concept, intermittent fasting is when you go a set number of hours—say, 16—without food during a 24-hour period. Then you repeat that fast on several days during the week. People use intermittent fasting mainly for weight loss or weight maintenance, or for general health. But it also has productivity benefits.

“When practicing intermittent fasting, many people report feeling more focused, energized, and at higher levels of concentration,” writes Kelsey Michal at Ladders.

If you’re medically able to try this approach, give it shot to see how it impacts your focus and output.

4. Take breaks

Taking a break is not a bad thing. In fact, it’s essential for long-term success. Yes, it might mean disrupting your flow, but you’ll likely find your mind sharper when you return to your schoolwork.

What does a good break look like? That’s an individual question. You need to figure out what works best for you. It might be just a matter of switching mental gears from studying to a lighter mental activity. Other good options:

  • Try a few minutes of prayer or meditation
  • Take a nap
  • Go for a walk (physical activity is always a plus!)
  • Chat with a friend
  • Listen to some music
  • Catch up on some non-school reading

5. Tap into the power of momentum

Harnessing the potential of momentum in your school day is a huge leap forward. The first step in doing that is just getting started. I call this the “kickstart.” In my own life, I find that if I can get five minutes into a challenging task or project, half the battle has been won. It’s the equivalent of putting on your sneakers and just walking out the door to go exercise—that first step is often all it takes for you to end up finishing your walk or run.

“Success requires first expending ten units of effort to produce one unit of results. Your momentum will then produce ten units of results with each unit of effort,” said Charles J. Givens.

Start small and take things one step at a time, and momentum will carry you along.

6. Designate an area in your home for study

Remote learners face the same challenges as remote workers: When home is your workspace, it can be hard to find the “off” switch when transitioning between work and play. A big step toward a solution is to designate a specific part of your home for study.

Depending on how much space you have to work with, this could be a corner of your apartment, a spare bedroom, or an entire floor of your house (a finished attic, for example). It’s important that this area be customized to what helps you study most effectively.

Some possible aids here include:

  • Ambient background noise
  • Natural sunlight (or at least adequate lighting)
  • A comfortable desk and chair (skip studying in a big easy chair or in bed, as you might fall asleep)

7. Reduce distractions

Notice I didn’t say “eliminate distractions.” Depending on your stage of life, entirely doing away with distractions is a pipe dream. There will always be some, and many of us face significant distractions in our remote school or work environments at home. The key here is to reduce those distractions as much as possible and work around them.

Some tips:

  • Use a pair of noise cancelling headphones
  • Have a white noise machine running
  • Find a space for study with a door that locks
  • Turn off your phone and tune our social media

8. Track your time

Tracking your time spent studying is the equivalent of setting a budget in your finances. Regardless of how you spend your time or your money, admitting it “on paper” is a huge step forward. It enables you to look back and evaluate how effectively you’re using your time during the day (or how you’re spending your money, to keep the analogy going!).

The good news is that so many great time-tracking apps exist to help you. One app that combines some fun with helping you stay on track is Forest. When you commit time to a task, you plant a tree and watch it gradually grow. If you get off task, the tree dies. RescueTime is another option. This one is perfect to not only track your time, but to block out distractions (like social media).

Now it’s your turn!

So that’s my list. What about you? What approaches do you find most powerful for staying productive as a remote learner? Leave a comment below and let us know.

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Apprenticeship Career Colleges General Interest Online learning

Is college right for you? Eight alternatives to the traditional path

For many students, college is an important step after high school. College can provide training for a specialized career like medicine or law, or an opportunity to study at a deeper level than in high school. But for too many students, college is “just what you do after high school,” and they end up graduating (or dropping out) with crippling debt and no real prospects.

So it’s important to consider seriously whether college is a good fit for you. Let’s take a look at some alternatives.

1. Community college

Some of the fastest-growing career fields, including dental hygiene and veterinary tech, only require a two-year degree, and community college graduates may be better off financially than their peers at four-year colleges.

Tuition is much lower—think $3,400 a year instead of $9,400 for an in-state public university or $24,000 out-of-state. In addition, most community college students can live at home, zapping the cost of the dorm and cafeteria. Young adults can enter the workforce faster and without the burden of student loans.

2. The military

Joining the military after high school can be a great opportunity to spread those wings. Some young adults join the military because they aren’t interested in college or don’t have the grades to pursue something they want to study. Others don’t have the financial means to make it work. Some do it for patriotism, others for adventure.

3. Apprenticeships

Apprentices are busy both working and learning, and they’re paid for it. Apprenticeships include training for a particular job, and employers pay for their apprentices’ college or vocational degrees in some cases. By the time a young adult completes an apprenticeship, he or she will have the skills, experience, and credentials needed for employment in the field he or she apprenticed in—and no college debt.

4. Vocational training/the trades/certificates

The skilled labor shortage in this country is not a secret, but it could be a huge problem for the economy. A 2015 study predicted that by 2025, 2 million manufacturing jobs would not be filled. More than 80 percent of executives who responded to the study’s survey said they would not be able to meet their customer’s needs because of that gap. About the same number said they are willing to pay above market rates. 

What does this all mean? A vocational training program could jumpstart a stable, well-paying career. Most programs only take a year or two and may be ideal for someone who wants to earn credentials but cringes at the thought of four more years of school.

5. Entrepreneurship

The year after high school can be a great time to be an entrepreneur. If you have a particular passion or skill—and a lot of hustle—you might consider starting a business or nonprofit.

High school or shortly after can be a great time to start a business—at that age, most people aren’t trying to support a family or pay down massive loans, so the stakes are low if something doesn’t work out.

6. Volunteering

If you are passionate about a cause, the time after high school—with almost nothing in the way of family or financial obligations—is an ideal time to dive in. You could spend a year in the U.S. or abroad giving your time to a nonprofit or church group.

In addition to being a service opportunity, volunteering gives you the chance to explore your passions, gain experience in the field, and create a network of people who can vouch for your skills or connect you with further opportunities.

7. A side gig

Whether it’s driving Uber or substituting for organists at area churches, more than 30 percent of workers in the U.S. have side hustles, and the trend is growing. Some side gigs can turn into full-time jobs, but another advantage of side gigs is their scalability.

8. A gap year

Some students will benefit from a year spent exploring their skills and interests, whether it’s volunteering, apprenticing, traveling, or working. A gap year can allow you to recharge your batteries and take a breather before diving back into academics. It can also help you clarify what (or whether!) you want to study in college.

In some cases, a gap year spent working is just a plain good decision. If you want to attend college, but money is tight, a year of work can be a good head start on the tuition bill.

Wrapping Up

While many students benefit from pursuing a four-year degree immediately after high school, others will be better off taking a gap year or a different route altogether. When college tuition costs are rising and non-college opportunities are multiplying, it makes sense to think seriously about what’s best for your future.

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Career Colleges General Interest Online learning

7 fast facts: Should distance learning students bother applying to an Ivy League school?

Ah yes, the prestigious Ivy League—Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, Penn, and Yale. Considered to be among the crème de la crème of American universities, these eight private schools rank high on the list of many high school students—including homeschoolers—when it comes to applying to colleges.

And what’s not to like? Known for their academic excellence, selectivity in admissions, and elite social connections, Ivy League schools often deliver a high ROI to grads who are able to translate their pricey degrees into high-paying jobs in the upper echelons of America’s top career fields.

And thanks to multi-billion-dollar endowments, students from middle-class and lower socioeconomic backgrounds can benefit from generous financial aid packages that offset high tuition rates and make an Ivy League education more affordable—and no longer the exclusive domain of the rich and powerful.

But even with these positives, many students and their parents look at the average $65,000 annual price tag for tuition, room, meals, and fees and ask themselves the big question: Is an Ivy League degree really worth it? And perhaps more to the point, why should you even bother applying to an Ivy League school when there are so many other high-quality, lower-cost public and private higher education options available?

Are Ivies worth the trouble?

To help answer these questions, Dr. Kat Cohen, founder and CEO of IvyWise, a college counseling firm, offers some insights from her days as a former Yale application reader.

For her, it’s all about the financial aid package. Beyond this, Cohen says the most important element of a student’s college education is what they make of their experience on campus. And while an Ivy League education can be valuable, she believes that many highly motivated students who are proactive about fostering rich academic and social experiences with classmates and faculty can get the same caliber education at other schools for a fraction of the cost.

Bottom line: Simply attending an Ivy League school isn’t enough to guarantee long-term career success. However, if an elite-level school offers a combination of scholarships and other assistance that significantly offsets the high tuition costs, then it makes sense to apply and see what happens. As the old saying goes, you never know until you try!

The good news is that no matter which college a student chooses, those who are active on campus, maintain top grades, develop defined interests, and connect with classmates, faculty, and alums will get the most out of their educational experience. And there are plenty of great public and private options available in every state across the nation.

So, while it may make sense for students to shoot for the stars and apply to an Ivy League or similar elite-level university, it’s always good to have a backup plan that includes a solid mix of educational options at varying price points.

With this in mind, here are seven fast facts to keep in mind if you’re considering decide to throw an Ivy League school into their college application mix:

Fact #1

Most homeschoolers have a higher GPA than traditional students—making them relatively more competitive from the get-go.

Fact #2

Elite-level colleges like Harvard, Yale, MIT, Duke, and Stanford want homeschoolers—and are doing everything they can to actively recruit students who have been homeschooled. They recognize that homeschooled students are often better prepared for college than their non-homeschooled peers. And they see the value in going after them.

Fact #3

Many colleges are adjusting their admissions policies to be friendlier to homeschooled applicants. Instead of relying on transcripts, many now accept work portfolios and offer a more flexible admissions process.

Fact #4

Homeschooled students often stand out in highly competitive admissions situations. Why? Because when a large pool of students competes for a few coveted spots, homeschoolers have an edge when it comes to excelling in independent study situations that require a high degree of self-motivation—traits that point to a greater likelihood of success in the rigorous academic environment of an Ivy League school.

Fact #5

Don’t believe the rumor that homeschoolers must get a GED to be eligible for federal student aid—it’s simply not true. Unfortunately, some colleges continue to hold this incorrect view. In reality, however, homeschooled students are exempt from this requirement.

Fact #6

Homeschooled students are ahead of the curve and typically earn more college credits than their traditional-school peers before they even get to college—on average 14.7 college credits for homeschoolers compared to 6.0 credits for traditional-school students.

Fact #7

Homeschooled students do very well in college—so much so that they tend to outperform traditional students from start to finish during their college careers. For example, first-semester homeschool freshmen have an average 3.37 GPA, compared to 3.08 for other freshmen. And homeschooled college seniors earn an average GPA of 3.46, compared to 3.16 for their counterparts educated in traditional schools.

Wrapping up

In the early days of homeschooling—30-plus years ago—there were significant hurdles that homeschool students faced when it came to admission to elite-level colleges. Nowadays, Ivy League schools are rolling out the red carpet to welcome homeschoolers and making it easier to navigate the process and receive full and fair consideration.

Coupling this trend with the generous financial aid and scholarship packages that most elite-level schools offer, the pie-in-the-sky dream of attending an Ivy League college may not be as far-fetched for homeschool students as it once was.

Of course, there are more factors to consider than just cost and potential career earnings when it comes to deciding which schools to apply to, but there are plenty of good reasons for homeschool students to spice up their college applications with a couple of Ivies and see what happens.

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Career Colleges COVID-19 Family General Interest Homeschooling Online learning

The best and worst states for homeschooling in 2021

One year into the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s clear that education in America has changed dramatically. In a matter of days, tens of millions of families were forced to pivot to both working and teaching their children at home as schools across the nation closed in 2020. Although this new homeschool reality was a shock for many families, it was business as usual for the 2 million Americans who were already educating their kids at home.

And while schools slowly reopen this year as vaccinations increase and new coronavirus cases plummet, a seismic shift is rocking the landscape of American education. Instead of sending their children back to school, many parents are choosing to permanently join the ranks of their homeschooling peers across the nation. Along the way, they want to know how their state compares when it comes to homeschooling regulations. 

A snapshot of homeschooling in America

While homeschooling is legal in all 50 states, each state has its own laws, guidelines, and regulations. This means that some states are more homeschool-friendly than others. 

For example, some states are very hands-on and require homeschool parents to file paperwork, teach required subjects for a specific number of hours, agree to in-home evaluations, and participate in state testing requirements. 

In other states, once parents file the initial paperwork they have a great deal of autonomy to guide their child’s education as they see fit—with very few requirements from their state government. This means they can develop their own curricula, enroll in online homeschool programs, and join cooperatives with other parents to teach subjects like foreign languages, art, and music. 

Not surprisingly, for many parents the less record-keeping, reporting, and testing required by the state the better. For them, more autonomy makes for a better homeschooling environment for their children than in those states with more invasive government intervention. 

The best states for homeschooling

According to the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), the best states for homeschooling are those with the least-restrictive legal environments. Here are some of the top states based on this criterion: 

Alaska: Perhaps the least-restrictive state in America, Alaska simply requires children between the ages of 7 and 16 to either attend a school or comply with the state’s homeschool law. This means parents who choose to homeschool are not required to notify the state, get approval, give tests, be a certified teacher, or maintain contact with the government. 

Idaho: No notice to the school district is required, nor do homeschool parents have to possess specific qualifications, obtain district approvals, do testing, or provide information about their homeschool program, if asked. But they must select an instructor for their children, which can be anybody, including themselves. They are also required to teach language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Illinois: Homeschools here are treated as private schools. They do not have to give notice to the school district, nor do they have to register with—or be recognized by—the state. However, homeschool parents must teach required subjects including language arts, math, science, social studies, fine arts, and physical development and health, and they must specify that instruction takes place in English. 

Indiana: As one of the least-restrictive states, home schools here are essentially considered to be private schools and must comply with the state’s private school statute. Parents must teach in English and provide instruction equivalent to public schools—though the state board of education is not  allowed to define what this means, nor can it approve homeschool programs. Parents must also operate their homeschool the same number of days as public schools—usually 180 days—and keep attendance records.

Michigan: While no notice to the school district is required, parents have the option to homeschool under the state’s homeschooling law, or as a nonpublic school—or both. Regardless of the option chosen, parents must teach specific subjects, though the regulations do not prescribe grade levels or how often courses are taught. 

Missouri: Although no notice to the school district is required, parents must teach specific subjects and keep records for all children under age 16. They must also provide at least 1,000 hours of instruction during each school term—with 600 of these hours in core subjects.

New Jersey: Under state law, the only requirement is that parents provide their children with an equivalent education to one they would receive in public school. So while no notice to the school district is required, parents must be sure to teach the same subjects offered by their local public school. 

Oklahoma: With no requirement to test, report, or give the school district notice, parents here have great freedom to run their homeschools as they see fit—so long as they operate for at least 180 days each school year.  

Texas: Homeschools here are considered private schools and must teach math, reading, spelling and grammar, and a course in good citizenship. And while no notice to the school district is required, homeschool parents must use a written curriculum, which can be satisfied by an online program. 

States with low regulation

Moving down the continuum, the HSLDA also looks at the amount of regulation imposed in the homeschooling arena. These states have fewer regulations and are thus considered to be relatively more homeschool-friendly:   

  • Alabama
  • Arkansas
  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Georgia
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Kentucky
  • Mississippi
  • Montana
  • Nebraska
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

States with moderate regulation

According to HSLDA, these states regulate homeschooling more, but do not fall to the bottom of the rankings:  

  • Colorado
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oregon
  • South Carolina
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Washington, DC
  • West Virginia

The worst states for homeschooling

Standing in contrast, these five states combine high regulations with more restrictions and rank among the worst state for homeschooling in the United States: 

  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont

And in a surprising twist, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania have no statewide system of regulation. This means that homeschool families are at the mercy of regulations imposed by local school districts. In practical terms, homeschooling conditions in these two states are inconsistent—with some districts treating homeschool families well while others overburden them with regulations. 

Homeschooling—the ultimate choice in education

Not surprisingly, opinions vary widely on the degree to which more or less regulation in homeschooling is preferable. Some parents appreciate greater regulation because—other than reporting and recordkeeping—the curricula are planned out for them. Others find that excessive regulations infringe on the freedom promised by homeschooling and see onerous guidelines as stifling. 

In the end, the option to homeschool in the least-restrictive environment possible represents the ultimate choice in education. And as Ian Slatter with the HSLDA notes, “Homeschool performance doesn’t change between students in the easy states and those in the difficult ones. There’s a lot of regulation and work placed on parents in the difficult states with no benefit.”

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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 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.

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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

How to pick a college major in 2021

Are you a high-school student preparing to go to college in 2021? Chances are you’re still debating the huge decision of which major to pursue. Maybe you’ve narrowed down your list to two or three but haven’t finalized anything yet. The global COVID-19 pandemic might’ve added even more uncertainty to your decision, as you and your parents debate what college will actually look like going forward.

We get it—picking a major can be intimidating, especially in a year like 2020! To help out, we’ve put together a few ideas below to guide you through the process, plus a handful of majors and career fields that will be in high demand in the coming years (even in the crazy pandemic world we find ourselves in today). Read on!

Before you begin: 5 questions to ask

Let’s start by asking a few questions. 

1. What do I enjoy doing?

This can be anything from playing basketball and video games to shopping for clothes. List all of it out. Your answers can help you realize where your interests lie.

2. Out of what I enjoy doing, what am I good at?

This is where you have to be honest with yourself, meaning neither too positive (“I’m good at everything!”) or too negative (“I’m not good at anything”). This is about finding where your hobbies and your skills intersect. So if you love playing basketball but don’t do well with it, then “playing basketball” shouldn’t go on your list. Or you may have a good fashion sense, but have no desire to work with clothing, so leave “fashion” off the list.

3. What do others think I’m good at?

You’ll need to talk to your family and friends to answer this question. Allow them to be frank with you. Don’t be defensive or attempt to argue. Just hear them out and take note of what they say. How others perceive our abilities can sometimes give us greater insight into what we’re truly talented at doing.

4. What do I like learning about?

Out of all your schoolwork, what subject feels less like a chore? Maybe they all seem like chores, in which case, ask yourself, “What do I like learning in my free time?” Even if you don’t read books outside of school, every time you watch a movie, go to a basketball game, or take a walk in nature, you’re learning something. So what is it that most interests you?

5. Once you decide on a major to pursue, do you enjoy the classes?

If you take a class or two in a major and you don’t enjoy the subject, you may want to consider a different path. You may be able to count any courses you take in the major you leave behind as extracurricular classes, so the hours can still go toward whatever degree you eventually pursue.

High-growth job fields

So what jobs should you consider for the future? Here are five jobs to think through. Keep in mind that the projected job growth is through 2029. Most of this data comes from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics.

1. Position: Nurse Practitioner

Projected job growth: 52%

Average salary: $115,800

College degree needed? Yes, plus graduate school

Major: Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) 

Graduate school needed? Yes

2. Position: Solar Photovoltaic Installer

Projected job growth: 51%

Average salary: $44,890

College degree needed? No, but you might stand out better if you have a bachelor’s degree or an associates degree from a technical college. According to OwlGuru.com, nearly 56% of folks in this position have only a high-school diploma.

Graduate school needed? No

Major: Solar Energy Technology

3. Position: Statistician

Projected job growth: 35%

Average salary: $92,030

College degree needed? Yes

Major: Bachelor’s degree in Statistics, Mathematics, Economics, or Computer Science

Graduate school needed? Yes

4. Position: Information Security Analyst

Projected job growth: 31%

Average salary: $99,730

College degree needed? Yes

Major: Bachelor’s degree in Cybersecurity or Management Information Systems

Graduate school needed? No

5. Position: Speech-Language Pathologist

Projected job growth: 25%

Average salary: $79,120

College degree needed? Yes

Major: Communication Sciences and Disorders (CSD)

Graduate school needed? Yes

Parting advice: Don’t stress!

In closing, here are two additional points to keep in mind when choosing your major:

1. You don’t have to choose a major right away

Plenty of folks don’t know what they want to do when they first start college. So you can start out by taking some general-education courses that every student needs to take while you consider your options.

2. Your major isn’t a lifelong sentence

If you graduate with a degree and then realize you hate working in that field, you have the freedom to go back to school if you want. But that may not be necessary—many folks don’t have a job related to their degree. And increasingly, people are switching careers entirely. The point is, don’t feel like the rest of your life hinges on the major you choose, because it doesn’t. 

Well, that’s all for now! We hope you’ve been able to find some useful information here, and we wish you the best of luck in choosing your major.