Every year, more and more students decide that distance education is the best way to achieve their academic goals. In fact, in 2018, approximately 30 percent of college students take at least one online course, according to National Center for Education Statistics (NCES).

Online courses can clearly lower a lot of barriers to higher education, particularly for graduate students who may be juggling the demands of work and family with their academic goals. Despite benefits you may have some common questions and concerns:

  • Students who earned their bachelor's degree at a brick-and-mortar college may be nervous about studying online to earn their master's degree
  • You've been academically successful in the past, but can you be successful in an online program?

Although there are some key differences between studying on-campus and online, students should be able to leverage their past academic successes and experiences to prosper in an online setting.

To help you pave the way for success, here are five tips from the experts about studying online to pursue your master's degree.

    1. Things to Prepare for Online Master's Degree Program

    As with many experiences in life, it helps to manage your expectations. As with anything worth pursuing, earning an online master's degree requires planning, motivation and follow-through. Knowing this beforehand and being mentally prepared for the work you are committing to can be immensely helpful.

    Before beginning an online master's program, there are many things to prepare for online masters degree program. It helps to know the structure of the program you are enrolling in:

    Although both types of online programs can give you more flexibility than a traditional classroom-based program, it's important to choose the program that works best for you and your schedule.

    Not all online programs are designed or scheduled the same, which is important to know. When picking an online graduate school, be sure to do your research to find a program that is structured in a way that meets your needs.

    Lastly, make sure you are tech ready. Most colleges outline the technical requirements for online students. These can include:

    Depending on the classes, students may need specific software installed on their computer. Some basic programs include:

    The computer you used as an undergrad may not be up to date on the necessary requirements, so if you want to be prepared, check the technical requirements before your classes begin.

    Action Items: Things to prepare for online master's degree program

    • Understand that an online program is not going to be easier than a traditional program
    • Research the structure of each online program you are interested in, and pick a program that fits your schedule
    • Look up the technical requirements of your online program, and update your computer accordingly

    2. Study as if You Were in a Brick-and-Mortar Class

    You may be asking: How do I succeed in online masters program? In your undergraduate years you learned how to study for college-level courses. You also learned what study practices work best specifically for you. All these study skills you've gained can still be applied to online classes.

    Maintaining a calendar is one great way to keep organized and make sure you don't miss any important assignments, lectures or exams. It is important to make sure you understand what is expected of you in each online course that you take. The best way to determine that is to always start your courses by reading the syllabus.

    These are all simple things you've done before to manage your study schedule when you attended a brick-and-mortar campus. The key here is to stay organized and stay on top of your program.

    Action Items: How to be successful in an online master's program

    • Maintain your time by keeping a calendar and daily checklist of deadlines
    • Read your syllabi to know what is expected of you during each course
    • Leverage the study skills you learned as an undergrad and use them in the online setting

    3. Establish a Routine

    You likely choose to attend an online school for its flexibility. In addition to tracking all the assignments you need to complete, as discussed above, part of managing your time in a graduate program is finding a consistent time and place where you can study.

    Routines play an important role in learning, and finding a place to study that is comfortable and familiar can help you be successful in your program. Everyone learns differently; some people need some background noise, while others require quiet when studying.

    Just as important, it is also necessary to find a scheduled time to complete your online coursework. Students should try to find a time that can be integrated into their regular life, allowing their graduate program to fit into their routine.

    Unlike a traditional program that has set schedules and defined times for classes, in an online program, you are the one who has to set up your schedule and stick to it. Getting into a routine is a great way to keep your graduate program a priority in your life.

    Action Items: Tips for surviving your online master's degree program

    • Establish a routine by finding an ideal time and place to study

    4. Explore Your Resources

    Students taking online courses for the first time may fear that they won't have the resources they need to complete their coursework. However, most schools that offer online programs provide ample support for their online students. This includes:

    Online students don't need to worry that they won't have any support. However, some resources may not be immediately obvious, so it is up to you to research to discover what is available to you.

    Aside from the resources specifically for online students, there may be other school resources available to you as a student of a university. These include:

    While some schools may be set up to provide these services to online students, others may not be. However, these resources are likely still available to you; you may just have to do some legwork to reach out and set up phone appointments with advisors.

    Students should also fully explore the online platform that hosts their online master's program. This platform likely has many subject-specific resources for students. In addition to helping students discover study resources, exploring the online platform can help students learn how to navigate through it, which can also be helpful to be successful in a program.

    It's always better to know what resources are available to you upfront, rather than discovering them a year into your program, so make discovering these items a priority when you begin your program.

    Action Items: Tips on getting your online masters degree successfully

    • Research what online resources and school resources are available to you
    • Explore the online platform that hosts your program to find subject-specific resources

    5. Actively Communicate

    One of the worries that students may have before beginning an online program is that they won't have any contact with others in the classes, including the professors. While online learning is generally more of a solitary activity compared to studying in a traditional classroom, online students only have to be as isolated as they want to be.

    As an online student, it helps to actively participate in the discussion forum and other chat features provided through the online learning platform used by your school. These students can be the classmates you ask questions to, collaborate with on projects and ultimately deem as your friends. Online programs provide ample opportunities to connect to others in class; it's up to you to make the most of those opportunities.

    Similarly, it should not be difficult to contact and receive feedback from your professor in an online master's program. Keep in mind that instructors are there to help, and they have a vested interest in ensuring their students have what they need to succeed. Most online teachers provide several methods of communication for students to contact them.

    Ultimately it's up to you to communicate in order to meet other students and receive personalized instructions from professors. Studying from your home may make the classroom feel very distant, but it should feel just as comfortable to reach out to your professor for help as if you were together in the same room.

    If you are having an issue with the online learning platform, consider posting it in the discussion forum so that students who have similar trouble can get the answers they need. In the end, the more you interact with your class, the more it can feel like a community.

    Action Items: How do I succeed in online master's program?

    • Participate in the online forums or chat features offered by your program to connect with classmates and find study companions
    • Understand that is generally easy to contact an instructor for feedback, and don't be afraid to reach out to them for help

    These fundamental tips for studying online to earn a master's degree can help give students a sense of what to expect and what they need to know prior to starting coursework. A solid understanding of expectations is one of the best ways to meet challenges in the online learning environment.