I am one of those people who completed their degree online. I received a Bachelor of Communications from Griffith University (online) and balanced it with full-time work, a year-and-a-half living in Scotland, and a pretty busy social life. And now, I’m completing my MA (writing) with Swinburne Online.
The most common response that I get when I tell someone that I completed my degree online is: “I could never do that, I’m not disciplined enough.” While there are people who are absolutely more disciplined than others, I actually don’t fall into that disciplined camp. I kind-of taught myself to be disciplined. If, like me, you are unable to physically attend university because of work (or whatever), then not being disciplined isn’t really a reason to not do it, not if you really want to achieve a degree.
I want to share five things that worked for me. Bear in mind, they might not be right for you, but I thought it would be fun to share.
1 – Get a diary
A lot of people use their Google or Outlook calendar, but that never really worked for me (it might work for you), I tend to need something physical. I use these diaries by Brepols because I am able to look at a whole week at a time, and they break everything down to hour increments. So I can block out sections for study, like in an outlook calendar.
As much as possible, those study times are non-negotiable. Of course there are unavoidable things, a flight for work, going on holiday, etc.
2 – Break up your study
Personally, I find you need about 10 to 15 hours of study per-week and per-subject. For me, if I try to do everything at once, I get overwhelmed and become frustrated (and usually a little despondent).
I try to study for one hour a day, Monday to Friday, and then two bigger stints on the weekend. Usually, I’ll do the readings during the week and prepare my tutorial responses on the weekend. Breaking it up has been essential, and helps me balance study with other commitments.
As a side note: Giving yourself space to think after a reading is really helpful.
3 – Add time to your day
Work out what it is worth sacrificing. I was never going to give up going to my personal trainer, nor was I isolating myself from every social invitation that came my way. Instead, I started getting up an hour earlier, and using that hour to study. I sacrificed that hour of sleep.
Sometimes I’d hate it, and I’d be too tired or just not want to think about study. But I try to make it fun. For example: once a week I will go to my favourite café and have a coffee and breakfast while I study. If you can make it a habit, it becomes a lot easier.
4 – Plan ahead
Planning is essential to every single aspect of your study.
On day one of a new subject, find the due dates of every weekly task, assignment/essay, etc. and mark them in your diary. This is usually harder than you think, because universities have a tendency to say “Due Friday Week 11” and then you have to refer to the calendar of weeks to confirm the date. This saves them having to update this information for every subject. Doing this at the beginning saves time and stress.
If you have a good tutor, they’ll make regular announcements with this information, but don’t rely on best practice from tutors, you’ll eventually have a tutor who is too time-poor, or just doesn’t think it’s their responsibility to flag these things. When that happens, it falls to you to be organised.
Mark a point two weeks from each major assignment due date in your diary, and have a draft complete by that date. People who are able to take a break, then come back and edit get higher grades.
5 – Screw up all your plans
This is the most important step: it’s inevitable that you will screw up something or everything and have to start again. I have done this a hundred times. Even in my Masters, after so many subjects studied online, I completely crashed in my second semester.
Don’t despair. Instead, communicate with your tutors. Let them know when things get crazy and negotiate deadlines if necessary. Some will be supportive and understanding, while others won’t. But work with what you’ve got, and forgive yourself when you screw up.