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Career Colleges General Interest Online learning

The best tech tools to make distance learning in college work better

There has never been a better time to attend college exclusively online than right now. A big reason is because of all the amazing technology available to make the journey easier. And all of that tech has never been cheaper or more accessible.

To help out, in this blog post we’ll explore the best tech tools—both software and hardware—to ensure you’re successful.

1. Google Docs

This one depends on how your college handles assignments, but if you’re looking for an easy way to handle word processing that also happens to be free, you can’t beat Google Docs. This online suite gives you options that closely resemble Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It offers the chance for real-time collaboration between students and teachers.

2. Tools for managing assignments: Trello or Asana

We know that distance learning students tend to be much better than their peers at self-directed learning. A way to help out with that is keeping on track and on task with a project management app. Here are two to consider:

  • Trello offers an excellent way to visually represent various buckets of assignments and schoolwork and move them from “in progress” to “review” to “complete.” This is the project management app I personally use for my business. With Trello, you can create individual cards that represent assignments and then move them between “stacks” showing progress and momentum. The app also makes it easy to add attachments or make comments. As a parent, you can also access your student’s Trello board to monitor progress.
  • Asana is similar to Trello except that it offers more customization and detail on individual tasks. Another big difference is in the visuals: If your high school student works better with a “check list” type format, then Asana is ideal. If he or she prefers a more visual approach, Trello is the ticket. The bottom line: If you want to go more granular, Asana can be a great tool. But if you want to keep it simple, go with Trello. For most high school students, Trello will be more than sufficient.

3. A time-tracking app

There are so many great time tracking apps out there. 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).

4. A laptop

As a tech tool, a laptop is close to indispensable for high school students because they will inevitably use them during the next step in college or other vocational training. A laptop doesn’t have to break the bank, either: Chromebooks can easily be found for under $300 (some of them $200) and offer much of what’s needed to aid a college education.

Why not get a desktop? While they’re cheaper, in the long run a laptop will serve you better and prepare you for life after college. Plus, you always have the option of connecting a laptop to an external LCD and keyboard to mirror a desktop experience. (See point 5 below.)

5. Tablet

This could be an Apple iPad, an Android tablet, or even a Kindle or Nook e-reader for books. A tablet could actually be a decent replacement for a laptop. For example, if you want an Apple device but can’t stomach the $1,000 entry-level price for a MacBook Air, you can combine an iPad with a smart keyboard for around $450.

6. Headphones

They must have a built-in microphone. A bonus is if they are noise cancelling, especially if you have a larger family.

7. External monitor

Having a portable device like a laptop, tablet, or smartphone has its perks, but screen real estate is not one of them! That’s why it can be beneficial to have an external monitor on hand where you can hook up your portable devices to enjoy a bigger screen.

8. High-quality webcam

Whether it’s Zoom, Skype, or one of the many other apps out there, video conferencing has become a way of life in 2020 and 2021. To make the most of it as a remote learner, you need a high-quality webcam. Most laptops come with built-in cameras, but it’s with investing an extra $50 in a higher resolution camera. Here is the model I recently bought off Amazon.

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Career Colleges Finances Online learning

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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Apprenticeship Career Colleges General Interest

Top job-hunting mistakes that distance learning students make

Graduates of distance learning high school programs have a lot going for them when it comes to the job market. As the product of an innovative, flexible approach to education, they tend to be good at thinking outside the box—a crucial skill in today’s rapidly shifting economy.

But no matter who you are, venturing into the job market for the first time can be intimidating. In today’s blog post, we share a few common pitfalls that you might face when first entering the job market—whether directly from high school or after graduating from college.

Here they are:

1. Starting the application process with no work experience or practical skills

If your entire skillset is book learning, you have a problem. Employers are hungry for graduates with real-world experience. In fact, a survey from 2012 found that employers listed “internships” and “employment during college” as more important than “college major” when making hiring decisions.

What to do instead: Look to establish a track record of practical work experience. This can include summer jobs, internships, volunteering, foreign mission trips, and more. An added plus is to match your work or volunteer experience to your major in college. We share more ideas here.

2. Relying too much on online applications

There is a place for spreading your resume hither and yon through online applications (also known as “spray and pray”), but the success rate leaves much to be desired.

What to do instead: Ditch the online application pool. Get out and meet new people, make contacts, and let people know you’re looking for work. Professional relationships are truly the gold standard here.

3. Not keeping your social media identities tidy

You can rest assured that many potential employers run your name through major social media sites, or simply Google your name. Look at your social media identities from the vantage point of a hiring manager—would you hire you?

What to do instead: Keep a professional appearance on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. That doesn’t mean everything on your social media identities needs to be work-oriented, but it should reflect personal integrity and professionalism. Here are more tips for navigating the world of social media when it comes to college applications.

4. Not sending a handwritten thank you note after the interview

In the past, sending a handwritten thank you note was the expected norm following an interview. But today, that practice has fallen on hard times.

What to do instead: It’s simple … always send a handwritten thank you note! Be sure to drop your interviewer an email thank you as well. This one-two punch will help you stand out as a gracious, polite individual. Get more ideas here.

5. Only looking at jobs publicly posted

We all know that the best jobs are seldom posted publicly. That harkens back to our second point and our encouragement to get out, form professional relationships, and make contacts. That way, you’ll know about job opportunities long before they are posted online.

What to do instead: Identify specific employers you’d like to work for, and reach out to hiring managers there (LinkedIn can be a handy tool for this). Try writing a personal letter with your resume attach, explaining your interest in the company. This article in Forbes has many additional great ideas.

6. Refusing to settle

Don’t expect too great of a job when you’re just on the first rung of the ladder. Oftentimes, the best opportunities come along when you’re hard at work in the trenches in a job you don’t particularly like.

What to do instead: Don’t be afraid to “settle” for a job that doesn’t appear to be the perfect fight. But always look for new opportunities to advance into the job of your dreams.

Wrapping up

As a homeschool graduate, hunting for your first job is an exciting time, but it can also be intimidating. Hopefully, the tips we’ve shared today will help you in your search. Good luck!

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Rejected by a college? Here’s what to do next

It’s a scenario no family wants to face. You and your high school student have done the right thing and applied to a variety of colleges. Next comes the waiting game. And when the letters do eventually trickle in, there is nothing quite like that sinking feeling of getting rejected by one of your top-choice schools.

Ouch!

It can be tempting to fight back. One North Carolina teen went so far as to pen her own rejection letter after Duke University turned her down. While that might be somewhat therapeutic, let me share a few more practical suggestions with you that you can apply immediately if your student is rejected by a school.

1. Don’t take it personally

In-demand institutions receive tens of thousands of applications each year. For example, the University of California Los Angeles received 86,548 applications for the fall 2014 semester and admitted only 16,059 of these students. A lot of times, your student might be right up there with the top performers, but there simply isn’t enough room to accommodate everyone. And with admission rates for many highly competitive schools in the 10% or lower range, chances are that your student will likely be rejected—or perhaps waitlisted—from at least one school where he or she applies.

2. Embrace feelings of disappointment

The truth is, rejection hurts. And if your student has been rejected by one of your top picks for a school, it hurts even more. But while the truth is we will all face disappointment at different points in life, the key is learning how to deal with rejection in healthy ways and be better prepared for real-life ups and downs. So as a family, go ahead and process your disappointment, but be prepared to move forward.

3. Realize it might not be because of your student’s academics

Often times, colleges are striving to put together a diverse student body, and that doesn’t mean that academics alone are the deciding factor for admissions. In fact, admission rates can vary widely depending on your student’s gender, race, age, disability, veteran’s status, income, state residency, nationality, and other non-merit factors. While there have been legal challenges to affirmative action quotas for some non-merit factors, courts have generally determined that the goal of achieving a level of student body diversity can overrule strictly merit-based criteria.

4. Look for weaknesses in your transcript

Rejection can be a good time to reflect on the strength of your high-school transcript. Are standardized test scores as good as they could be? Does your student have strong recommendation letters? Has he or she proven to be a varied student with lots of extracurricular activities? Don’t overthink it, but take an honest look at your transcript identify any weak points.

Once you’ve identified weaknesses, take steps to correct them. This may mean retaking a standardized test to raise a score. Or it might be a great opportunity to accept a summer internship or volunteer to broaden your student’s background.

5. Try applying for a later term

Sometimes a temporary setback can be the best thing that ever happened. And what often distinguishes successful people from others is dogged determination in the face of rejection and disappointment. When it comes to getting into college, this may mean re-applying to a school that rejected your student for a later term. Sometimes, admissions rates vary from fall to spring to summer semesters. While your student waits, he or she could get a job or internship to gain valuable work experience that will make a subsequent application even stronger.

6. Consider alternative options

Turn lemons into lemonade and remember that your family has other options. With their open enrollment policies, community colleges can be a good way to earn college credit and then later transfer to a four-year school. The good news is that going this route will likely mean big cost savings because community colleges are generally significantly less expensive than their four-year public and private counterparts. (Learn about 10 of the top-ranked community colleges in the U.S.)

Another option to consider is the military. Depending on your student’s field of interest, careers in the military often involve high-level training that can equal or exceed that of a college degree. And depending on the skill set acquired, men and women entering the workforce following a stint in the military are often highly sought after by private sector employers.  

Finally, some students may want to consider taking a gap year. While gap years have traditionally been more widely embraced by Europeans, Australians and New Zealanders, more Americans in recent years are choosing to take a break between high school and college to stretch themselves with some type of transformative cultural immersion—typically abroad, but perhaps even in the U.S.

With a gap year, your student can experience a variety of exciting and fulfilling experiences tailored to individual interests, including language immersion, non-profit volunteering, or even just travelling to broaden horizons and meet people from all over the world. For many students, gap years provide clarity and focus—enabling them to pursue their education goals with passion and enthusiasm upon returning home. Learn more about gap years here.

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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.”

Categories
Career Colleges General Interest Online learning

Here’s how to stress less about college applications

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

For students


1. Start early and prioritize your time

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

2. Pay attention to deadlines

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

3. Apply to a variety of colleges

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

4. Don’t compare yourself to your peers

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

For parents


1. Don’t pressure your student for perfection

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

2. Let your student lead the application process

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

3. Deal with the financial details

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

4. Don’t go it alone

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

The bottom line

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

Categories
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!

Categories
Apprenticeship Career Colleges Finances General Interest

5 ways to use 2021 to become a lifelong learner

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

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

For sure!

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

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

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

An advantage for distance learners

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

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

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

1. Stay curious

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

2. Be humble and teachable

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

3. Accept responsibility for your own learning

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

4. Launch a major project

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

5. Schedule time in your week for ongoing learning

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