When adults—especially moms and dads—think about going back to school, many see no way to squeeze college into their hectic routines. But it is possible—and we’re here with tips for success in online courses. Attending college online helps with that time crunch. Not having to commute to a campus saves adult students several hours per week. These stolen hours can then be applied to home study time. Truth is, the average working American has about 30 hours of free time per week. That’s right: 30 hours. The key is learning how to manage your time tightly.
Step 1: Time Management
The most common culprit of free time is TV. Most adults spend about 20 hours per week watching TV. We are not saying you should never watch TV; we’re suggesting that you give up watching the TV shows that do not really interest you. Free up your time. Record what you love for viewing on demand and nix the rest of that dead TV time. Reducing your TV time by 10 hours per week will result in 10 hours of free time to devote to your online education. Ten hours of free time per week is enough to complete that long-delayed dream of earning a college degree.
Step 2: Start Out Part-Time
Do you know how many courses you can take at a time and still remain sane? Enroll part-time and find out. Plan on each course requiring about five hours of study time per week. Some courses, especially ones where you may need tutoring, can require up to seven hours of study time per week. If you plan to enroll in two courses, be prepared to put aside 10 to 14 hours of study time each week.
Step 3: Put Your Goals in Writing
Earning an online degree will not be easy. You will encounter obstacles. Though it may sound silly, we encourage you to write down why you want to return to college. Write down all your reasons and put them where you will see them often, like the refrigerator or bathroom mirror.
Step 4: Claim a Study Space
Many adults return to college only to drop out three weeks into their studies. Why? One of the most common reasons is that online learning is hard work. It takes time. It takes discipline. It takes quiet. How can you guard against prematurely dropping out? The first step is to look around your house and find a place to claim as your own. Some students have found a quiet space in the garage, basement, attic or laundry room. After you’ve claimed your study space, make sure everyone in the family understands it is your sacred spot. Put up a DO NOT DISTURB sign and enforce it! Even if you can’t follow all the tips for success in online courses, your odds of staying in school will increase if you find a study spot.
Step 5: Make a Study Plan
Once you register for an online course, establish a home study schedule of about three to five hours per week. Pick two times that are each at least two hours long for your regular study time—for example, Wednesday nights from 7-9 p.m. and Sunday nights from 6-8 p.m.
On your first study day each week, read any required materials and take notes. Go back a few days later to review your reading notes and work on any written homework or other assignments. Now that you have identified your regular study times, tell everyone in the family. Post a notice on the refrigerator that you will be studying at predetermined times each week. Ask family members to respect this time. Make sure everyone understands you are not to be disturbed during your study time.
Never skip a study time. Always sit down at your station at study time. Do this even if you don’t have pressing homework to complete. Keeping a regular schedule will help prevent procrastination. If you find yourself sitting at your desk and looking at your books, but not reading, remind yourself that you only have to study for a short amount of time. Set a timer. At the end of that time, close the book and give yourself a break.
Step 6: Plan for Child and Elder Care
If you have children, you’ll need to plan for their care when you return to college. For most working adults, the option of professional childcare is an expensive one. Moreover, most professional daycare centers are not open weekends or late at night, the times when most adults are in classes. Be creative when scouting for childcare options. Use these tips for success.
- Check for a College Daycare Center Many people attend online colleges that are close to home. If so, tap into the resources that may be available to you on campus. Many colleges now operate child daycare centers. Your college may operate a free daycare center or one that offers care at a minimal cost for students and faculty.
- Check with Older Neighbors Many retired people welcome odd jobs that can be done from home. Take a walk. Say hello to your neighbors.
- Check with Family Members Maybe your sister will babysit for you if you take her kids for a weekend or two so she and her husband can have a romantic night free of children. Ask!
- Form a Parent Pool with Fellow Online Students Many online students attend local colleges. If that’s you, this means your fellow online students likely live close to you—and they may be parents, too. Tap those connections. Ask people in your class if they want to start a parent pool. You could watch your classmate’s kids on Wednesday nights when she has calculus in exchange for her watching your kids during your Monday night computer programming course.
Step 7: Seek Support from Your Employer
People do not handle going back to school in the same way. Some are very excited about being a college kid, so they tell the world about their new online courses. Others are embarrassed that they do not have a formal education. The latter tend to keep quiet that they are going to college online because they do not want to draw attention to the fact that they have not yet earned a college degree. (You would be surprised to learn how many highly successful people nearing retirement age go through their entire careers without the aid of a college degree!) Keeping quiet about college will make it difficult for you to garner support at work. For example, you may need to leave work 15 minutes early on Wednesdays to attend your required online class chat session. Many employers will subsidize at least a part of employee’s tuition and training bills. Don’t forget to ask about tuition assistance plans at your place of employment. If you work for a small company, try asking for tuition assistance to cover the expense of specific online courses that may directly correlate to your work.