“Accelerated programs available. Finish your degree in as little as 18 months!”
How many times have you heard something like that? Doesn’t that seem exciting?
Finishing an entire online degree program in less than two years is an impressive, and attractive, pitch to working adults. What they don’t focus on is that students can graduate in “as little” as 18 months. While graduating in 18 months (or less) is technically possible if your plan of study allows it, life has a way of keeping us busy outside of class. Like it or not, dropping a class will at some point, probably be necessary. Jobs, family, travel, illness, or injury can play a part in affecting our academic plan of study. Though it may be tough to keep perspective, remember it's not too late to scale things back mid-semester. And, there are worse things than dropping a class.
How to be a Tortoise, Not a Hare, When it Comes to Online Learning
1. Don't Max Out Your Course Load, Just Because They Let You
2. Revise Your Plan of Study and Allow For Easy Adds and Drops
3. Estimate The Cost of Dropping A Class or Other Changes
- Scaling Up: If you’d like to add classes, are you confident that you’ve got the extra time? Will you have the funds (via student loans, savings, tuition reimbursement, etc.) for the additional tuition?
- Scaling Down: If you’re dropping courses and scaling back for a semester or two, when will you be able to take the classes again? Are these courses prerequisites that have to be taken before you can move onto other classes? Will you get back any of your tuition if you drop? How could this impact your graduation date?
As you balance the costs of changing your plan, you may need to go back and revise your Plan of Study again. Additional tip: If possible, drop a class that’s offered during multiple semesters, so you can catch up more easily.
4. Visit With Your Academic Adviser Before Changing Your Plan of Study
Online Learning is Flexible, But Not Easy
One terrific advantage of online learning is that it’s much more flexible regarding when and where you do your classwork. However, “flexible” doesn’t mean that it’s easy…the work still has to be done, and sometimes you need to scale your semesters up or down to fit what you can into your schedule. As a distance learner, it’s essential to be able to scale your class-load up or down as your life allows, keeping you on track towards graduation.
Keep Your Eye on the Prize: Graduation
The path to graduation isn’t a race, and how quickly you get to the finish line isn’t as important as the fact that you finish. Regardless, the diploma will be there waiting for you. Hindsight being 20/20, I should have started with one class at a time. That’s what I eventually did, but it helped to learn that I had to adjust my semesters to fit the rest of my schedule. Dropping a class is sometimes necessary, but the peace of mind you need to study will be worth it. Editor's Note: If you have questions about online learning plans, check out Get Educated's distance learning forums.
About the Author: In addition to pursuing and writing about higher education, David Handlos works as a Lead Software Performance Engineer at Fiserv. He has also worked for Kansas State University as the webmaster, managing both the College of Engineering and Engineering Extension web sites. Handlos holds a Bachelors of Science in Computer Engineering from Kansas State University and a Masters in Information Systems which he earned online from Dakota State University.