It’s tough being a working professional while pursuing your graduate education online. There’s a lot going on. Like, a lot a lot—not only do you have to go to work eight hours every day, make dinner, tidy up, feed the cat, walk the dog, catch up on that show you’ve been meaning to watch, and get some sleep, you also have to find time to get homework done and sit down for class, whether it’s prerecorded or a live session. Calling it a mess is an understatement. And you hope it will pay off in the end, but you kind of wish it would pay off right now too. It’s okay. You’ll survive this—epecially with these five tips to help you master your online graduate courses.
Sure, there’s a lot going on in your life, but it gets easier to manage once you get organized. Especially since you’re not physically going to class anymore, it can be more difficult to keep track of things. Start by investing in a wall calendar. Having everything in your phone’s calendar is convenient, but it’s difficult to read all at once. If you have a live class session to attend, start by putting that in your calendar. If you don’t have a live session, choose a specific date and time each week to watch the prerecorded sessions. Once you know when your classes are, you can arrange other events around them, like getting your homework done or hanging out with friends.
Stay updated on course material
The syllabus is your best friend. The second the course opens on Blackboard or Canvas or whatever platform, go in and look at the syllabus. If you have any large projects due, put those dates in your calendar immediately. If your professor neglects to provide a detailed syllabus (unfortunately common), log on to the classroom portal and check out the assignments and discussions to see what due dates are coming up. Some portals will give you a handy to-do list that breaks down what’s due when, but some professors will put assignments in weird places where the date won’t register for reasons unknown. This practice normally isn’t done with malicious intent. Your professor might be new to the software and may have accidentally placed the assignment somewhere they didn’t mean to. If you have issues, reach out to the professor. They can tell you where to find what you need or email the materials to you if they’re really MIA.
Do your homework (on time)
As a full-fledged adult, you have a lot going on. Your life is nothing but moving parts at this point. You have responsibilities at home, at work, and—now—at school. Just because you’re electing to take on the burden of these courses doesn’t mean the homework is elective though. And getting it in on time is imperative, especially if the work is collaborative.
Many online courses are largely discussion based, so if students wait until the last minute to post their responses, others can’t complete their homework. Not to mention, even in an online class, you’re trying to expand your professional network, and consistently submitting homework late shows a lack of respect for deadlines, which doesn’t make you look too good. The best way to avoid this is to set aside time in your schedule to complete the homework the same way you set aside time to take the course. If you’re really pressed for time, try getting your homework done during your lunch break at work. This way you lack the distractions you normally have at home. Plus, by finishing your homework during lunch, you have extra time at home to do whatever you want.
Talk to your professor
That being said, there are times when life just gets in the way. Meetings pop up that keep you from taking a break, the kids get sick, the dog gets sick, business trips come out of nowhere, deadlines at work take precedence over deadlines on homework. If an emergency happens, email your professor about it. Most online courses are built to accommodate working professionals. Your professor probably has a full-time job on top of this course too, so they’ll do their best to work with you when something prevents you from getting the work done. But you have to talk to them about it or they can’t help you.
Take care of yourself
Grad school can be stressful, which is why self-care is so important as well. It may seem difficult, but find time to do something nice for yourself somewhere in your schedule. That could mean something as easy as turning your cell phone off one weekend night or not setting an alarm for one morning that you aren’t working. It could mean putting on a face mask while you do your homework or spending an extra 20 minutes in the gym because you finished your homework a day early.
Don’t forget to turn off sometimes too. If you have class on a Thursday and work a 9-to-5 schedule Monday through Friday, make Friday or Saturday night yours. Block it off in your schedule and do something that has nothing to do with school or work.
Online graduate courses may be the bane of your existence, or they might not seem so bad. Either way, they’re definitely important to furthering your education. Stay on track and don't forget to find the right balance between work, school, and home. You'll have your advanced degree in hand before you know it!
For more practical advice to help you survive your grad program, check out our Graduate School section.