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  • Writer's pictureDr. Cindy Atchley, PhD, MBA

10 Key Insights I Wish I'd Known Before Starting an Online Degree Program

Updated: Jun 12




Are you thinking about going back to college to get your degree online, but don't know what to expect? In Spring 2024, a group of graduating students in an online completion program at a well-known US university was asked: What are things you wish you knew before you enrolled in an online degree program?   Here are the top 10 comments:


1. Weekly Time Commitments

Many online college students underestimate the weekly time commitments required for their courses. Unlike traditional classes, where time in the classroom is a significant part of the schedule, online courses often require a substantial amount of independent study. Students need to allocate time for watching lectures, participating in discussion boards, completing assignments, and studying for exams. It's essential to create a weekly schedule that blocks out specific times for these activities to ensure consistent progress and prevent last-minute cramming.  Taking the ACC Worldwide Learn Course in Mastering Online Academic Skills Course will give students a realistic understanding of what is required for an online degree program.


2. The Amount of Writing Required

Online degree programs often involve a significant amount of writing. From discussion posts to essays and research papers, writing is a primary mode of communication and assessment. Students need to be prepared to articulate their thoughts clearly and coherently in written form. This can be particularly challenging for those who are not confident in their writing skills. It's beneficial to seek out resources such as writing centers, tutoring services, or online guides to improve writing proficiency. To prepare students for writing, ACC Worldwide Learn has created an Introduction to Essay Writing course to help students overcome writing issues.


3. APA Format

APA (American Psychological Association) format is a common citation style used in many online degree programs, particularly in the social sciences. Students must become familiar with the rules for formatting papers, citing sources, and compiling references. Understanding APA format is crucial for avoiding plagiarism and ensuring academic integrity. Many universities offer resources and workshops on APA style, and there are numerous online guides and tools available to assist students in mastering this format. ACC Worldwide Learn reviews APA and MLA essentials for students in many of their courses.


4. The Amount of Reading Required

The reading load in online courses can be extensive. Students are often required to read textbooks, academic articles, and supplementary materials weekly. Unlike in-person classes, where key points might be highlighted during lectures, online students need to digest and understand the material independently. Developing effective reading strategies, such as skimming, scanning, and critical reading, can help manage the workload and improve comprehension.


5. Weekly Deadlines

Online courses typically have weekly deadlines for assignments, quizzes, and participation in discussion forums. These deadlines help maintain a structured learning pace but can be overwhelming if not managed properly. It's important for students to regularly check their course calendar, set reminders, and establish a routine to ensure the timely completion of tasks. Procrastination can lead to increased stress and lower performance, so staying on top of deadlines is crucial. 


6. Level of Self-Discipline Needed

Success in an online degree program requires a high level of self-discipline. Without the physical presence of a classroom and face-to-face interactions with instructors and peers, it's easy to become distracted or fall behind. Students need to be proactive in managing their time, staying organized, and motivating themselves to complete their coursework. Establishing a dedicated study space, setting specific goals, and maintaining a consistent study schedule can enhance self-discipline. If you are new to college and online, check out ACC Worldwide Learns course on Preparing for your Online Academic Journey to learn the skills you need to be successful in your online degree program.


7. Understanding Assignment Requirements

Interpreting and understanding assignment requirements can be challenging in an online environment. Instructions may not always be as clear as in-person explanations, and there is often less immediate feedback. It's important for students to read assignment prompts carefully, seek clarification from instructors when needed, and review grading rubrics to understand expectations.  ACC Worldwide Learn has developed a course for students on Critical Thinking Skills, which will help students understand how to interpret and understand assignments.


8. Keeping Track of Weekly Assignments and Due Dates

Keeping track of weekly assignments and due dates is essential for success in an online degree program. Unlike traditional classroom settings where instructors may provide frequent reminders, online students must take greater responsibility for their schedules. Utilizing digital tools such as calendars, planners, and task management apps can help students organize their workload. Setting reminders and breaking down assignments into smaller, manageable tasks can also prevent feeling overwhelmed and ensure consistent progress.


9. How to Research Effectively

Effective research skills are crucial for completing assignments and understanding course material in an online degree program. Students need to be proficient in using online databases, academic journals, and other digital resources to find credible information. Knowing how to evaluate sources for reliability and relevance is also important. Many universities offer access to online libraries and research guides, and students should take advantage of these resources. Learning to use citation management tools like EndNote or Zotero can also streamline the research process. Check out ACC Worldwide Learns course on Introduction to Research course to teach you the basics of academic research and get you started on your online degree journey.


10. Missing the Social Interactions of an In-Person Class

One of the challenges of online learning is the lack of face-to-face social interactions. Many students miss the camaraderie and networking opportunities that come with in-person classes. Building a sense of community in an online program can be achieved through active participation in discussion forums, group projects, and virtual study groups. Some programs also offer synchronous sessions where students can interact in real time. It's important to make an effort to connect with peers and instructors to foster a supportive learning environment.


 ACC Worldwide Learn was founded by two online instructors who have taught for over 20 years, both online and in person, and understand these student issues. They have developed several courses to help students overcome these challenges by Bridging the Gap to Online Education.  Check out the courses ACC Worldwide Learn has and Invest in yourself! Invest in your Success!

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