How to Prepare Yourself for Online Graduate School

Earning a master’s degree can improve your career prospects and job satisfaction, whether you complete it online or in a traditional school. Research shows that postgraduate degree holders who took at least half of their courses online are just as likely as traditional learners to work in managerial and professional jobs (85% vs. 88%) and gain promotions at work (55% vs. 48%), according to a Gallup study.

While it’s true that online learning isn’t for everyone, for working adults with personal time constraints, distance learning offers an efficient way to enhance career qualifications without leaving your job. To make the experience just as enriching as in-person learning, it’s essential to know how to prepare for online school.

Below we offer seven tips that you can use to better prepare for completing your online graduate degree.

Tips to Prepare for Online Grad School

The same qualities that make virtual learning appealing to many can also be a challenge if you aren’t careful. You can build a flexible schedule around your personal life, but you also have to work harder to avoid distractions. If you want to gain the most value from online education, it’s important to go into it with a plan for managing your commitments and maximizing your skills.

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1. Create a dedicated study space.

When considering how to prepare for online classes, start by carving out a space that’s conducive to learning. Choose an area of your home where you can easily transition into study mode. If noisy environments throw you off your game, avoid rooms facing a busy street or communal areas where family members are passing through.

Make your workspace a tidy, comfortable, and enticing place to go. That way, you’ll feel relaxed and focused during longer study sessions. Keep everything you need close at hand, so you have fewer reasons to leave your study space during your designated work periods.

2. Obtain the right equipment.

Do your best to eliminate any technical difficulties that could prevent you from leveraging all the course materials. Since you’ll be completing classes and communicating on the computer, make sure you have a working desktop or laptop with a reliable internet connection. If using different software is required for your field of study, such as a computer science or engineering degree, find out whether your computer has the right specifications. 

Make a list of any other necessary equipment, and obtain it well in advance. Noise-canceling headphones are great for people who travel frequently or have family or roommates. Will you need a better webcam or a headset for webinars and group projects? Will an external monitor increase your productivity? Don’t wait until classes begin to figure out what you need. At that point, your focus should be on adapting to your institution’s learning model and getting acquainted with your course materials.

3. Limit distractions.

How often do you get started on something and then find yourself stopping to handle a host of unrelated tasks? Set boundaries for yourself to foster good study habits and combat procrastination. Think about factors that interrupt your focus, and plan ways to limit them. Maybe, you need to work in a room without a TV or turn off your phone before studying.

When you have a family or housemates, it’s equally important to let them know that you shouldn’t be disturbed during study time. Try to compromise with everyone in your household to agree on periods when distracting activities, such as playing loud music, are off limits.

4. Get comfortable with the platform.

Taking initiative plays a big part in student success. Once your courses begin and you have access to the online learning platform used by your institution, take time to familiarize yourself with the tools and functionality, so you’re prepared for the start of the semester.

If you have any questions about the platform, get answers as soon as possible. For example, it’s crucial to know where to find any supplemental resources mentioned in classes. You should also be knowledgeable about how to submit assignments, communicate with professors and classmates, and get technical assistance.

5. Strengthen your time management skills.

Your time management skills will make or break your experience in online graduate school. Without the structured routine of scheduled classes, it’s up to you to set a productive pace in your studies. Not to mention, the everyday distractions of family life can start to eat into your time and slow your momentum.

To stay on track, set personal deadlines for finishing weekly assignments and research. Make it your goal to stay ahead of your schedule by spacing out your commitments. Any unexpected events that come up won’t put you behind if you build a little wiggle room into your schedule.

6. Don’t forget to network.

Whether your degree program is hybrid learning or completely online, don’t miss out on getting to know your peers. Networking in online grad school can help you explore diverse perspectives and gain a deeper understanding of assignment objectives. At the same time, bringing your unique expertise to a discussion sets you apart as a valuable contributor.

Actively engage with peers during and outside of classes through video and forum chats. Sharing your background and interests will make others feel more comfortable reaching out to you throughout the program. The more you get involved in virtual interactions, the easier it is to build lasting connections that you can continue to leverage after you earn your degree.

7. Ask for help.

No one expects you to be a perfect, all-knowing student who has all the right answers. With this in mind, don’t hesitate to ask for help when you need it. It can be easy to let communication with your professors fall short in an online course, so be sure to foster a relationship with your instructors and seek help when needed.

In many cases, another student may have similar concerns. By asking questions, you could open the door to insightful discussions that help you and your classmates develop as critical thinkers. And guess what? That’s what grad school is all about.

Is an online master’s program right for you?

An online master’s degree program is geared toward students who are comfortable with independent learning. If you need more structure and face-to-face interaction, a traditional school will likely be a better fit. Before committing to an online program, determine whether it’s right for you to give yourself the best shot at academic success.