by Dr. Lyn Lazar, Academic Chair for the online MBA –Information Technology Management and MSIT programs
So, the time has come. You have decided that now is the time to return to school for that degree you have thought about for years. Perhaps you are after a promotion, but find that difficult without the degree to back up your knowledge. Maybe you want the degree to fulfill your own dreams, or you might want to set an example for your children.
Whatever the reason, now is the time for you. You are excited, nervous, and wonder how you are going to do this. How will you manage your career, your family, your leisure time, and still do well in your classes? How will you relate to the other students? Will you understand what you need to do? Will you enjoy your instructors?
What happens next? How do you proceed?
Let me give you a few tips that have helped students to be successful through the years. I know you can be successful. Please read that statement again. I know you can be successful. I didn’t say I know you will be successful, but you have made a choice to pursue your education, and that shows me that you have what it takes to successfully complete the program and do well.
Now, how do you go about being successful? Below you will find a few tips that I have given to students through the years. Some may apply more than others, but I think you will find each of them helpful.
1. Participate! You can’t be successful if you don’t do anything!
2. Communicate with your instructor. Many students who take online classes have full time jobs, families, and other responsibilities that they must attend to weekly as well as their classes. Your instructors understand this. Though they expect you to meet your obligations and responsibilities as a student, they also understand emergencies and will work with you to try to help you through those times that are truly emergencies if you communicate with them.
3. Read the syllabus, course schedule, and other documents provided by your instructor. Don’t skip through them because these documents contain important information that will help you to be successful.
4. Read messages and posts from your instructor. I know a lot of instructors and I have yet to meet one who posts discussions or sends messages just to have something to do. They are providing important information or moving the discussions forward, or they might have an announcement about an important issue in the class or a deadline change. Don’t miss those important messages.
5. Read the chapters and other assigned readings, watch any videos, or listen to any audio material that is provided. It is up to you to read the material and let your instructor know about any questions you have.
6. Start your work early in the week. Your instructors have lives, too, and they might not be available to answer your questions at the last minute. They are happy to help, but you need to be sure to begin the work early enough to allow time for a response or an exchange of messages between yourself and your instructor before the deadline for an assignment.
7. Be specific in your questions. “I don’t understand the material. Please help me.” This isn’t a statement that an instructor can easily respond to except with a question asking that you be more specific. “I don’t understand the diagram on page 34” or “I’m not sure how to create a formula to sum a column in Excel.” These examples would save time in getting you the help you need.
8. Set aside time for your school work. Reading and understanding material may take more time than expected. You might need to practice an assignment or rewrite a paper before you are satisfied. Proofreading a paper the day after you finish it can help you find mistakes you might miss while proofreading it immediately after you finish it because you know what you meant to say. Doing your work at the last minute may be necessary due to other circumstances in your life at times, but you’ll find you have less stress if you complete your assignments earlier in the week instead of seconds before the deadline.
9. Participate in the discussion boards. You have a wealth of experience to share with your classmates, just as they have to share with you. Your instructor is a great resource as well, but each of you will have unique experiences that can be helpful for other students. Don’t shortchange yourself or others by your lack of participation in the discussions.
10. Take time for yourself! If you don’t remember to take care of yourself, you won’t be able to take care of everything else you need to do. When the safety instructions are given on an airplane, one of them is that you should put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others. It’s difficult to do this at times, but it is important for your well-being and success. Read, hike, sew, fish, cook, shop, exercise, spend time with family, or do the other things that help you recharge.
With these tips and the hard work and perseverance that you have shown by getting to this point, I know you can be successful! Develop your own habits that will help you to do your best in your classes. Perhaps you can share that with other students who look up to you because you have moved forward in your degree program and are being successful.