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Online University Advice: From a Grad, for Future Grads

5/27/2011 2:06 pm

Online University AdviceBy Melissa Donahue

Dear Future WGU Graduate,

It has finally happened – I DID IT! (It’s something we all want to be able to say at the end of the day, when that final grade comes in and the Capstone project is completed.)

Someday, the question will come up: “Do you remember where you were when you found out you were done?” My answer to that is, “I was on my living-room couch, bathrobe-clad, sipping my tea and getting ready to start my day chaperoning my teenager’s high school field trip.” (I was also home alone, crying like a big baby, and the first thing I did was call my mommy.)

WGU made that answer possible. My first go-around with college didn’t go so well; I had to drop out during my first year back in the early 1990s. Even my father was disappointed; he said he didn’t think I’d ever get to go back and finish. But I did it. At this age (I will be 40 this year) and this time in my life (full-time employee, wife, and mother to a 17-yr old daughter and a 7-yr old son), I did it!

So, the question is: How? What advice can I leave for future WGU students that will help them achieve their goals?

There were moments when I had to really stop and think whether this school thing was something I could do right now, and I had the same doubts that other working adults do. How many plates can I spin before they start to fall off the pole and break? Well, the answer is different for everyone. My advice is to follow the three things that helped me along:

  1. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. It’s there for you.
  2. Test through anything you can pass the pretest for. Save money.
  3. Devote a block of time every day to your studies, but don’t be afraid to take a break from something that you are struggling with and come back to it.

Firstly, never be afraid to ask for help. Let me admit that the “asking for help” scenario is difficult for me. I am a very independent learner and very hands-on. However, when I was taking a class that required clarification on a particular concept or idea so that I could pass the assessment, the course mentors were invaluable. They have the knowledge and the insight to help point students in the right direction. The last few classes I took at WGU were outside my comfort zone, but the course mentors helped me through it all. In other areas regarding the college and its procedures, the student mentor steps in.

There are moments that I felt like I was a “low-maintenance” student and didn’t give my mentor, Sheila Clark, enough to do, but when I needed her, she was there. I could not have done it without her. Even on a personal level, it’s nice to have a cheerleader, someone who sees that a student has the potential and reminds them of such (even when they have moments when they are starting to freak out because the third submission for an assessment is imminent). No matter what personality type a student is, as long as they have the drive to complete a goal, WGU’s mentors provide that help and support in spades.

Online University Student TipsSecond: Test through anything you can pass the preassessment for. This tip helped dramatically reduce the number of terms to degree completion. Give yourself credit for the knowledge you already have! It saves you time and money. Otherwise, I don’t think I’d have completed a 4-year program in one year! The bottom line is always incentive; less time in school equals less to payback at the end of your student career AND fewer books to purchase. Another savings tip would be to shop for books at online textbook sites. Doing so can save money as well. Don’t let money be the reason to not achieve this all-important goal. WGU’s tuition is so much more affordable than other online schools. Do yourself a favor – combine those two tips into one. Make it happen!

The last thing I’d advise a student to do is to set up a reserved block of time for studying. Try to adhere to it. Life happens; if it didn’t, I would not be writing this letter now because I’d have finished college the first time. Don’t beat yourself up if something interferes, but try not to let it happen too often or you could lose sight of the goal. That “happy medium” is something that seems difficult to latch on to at times and I had my share of struggles too along the way.

The most important thing to do is to take a deep breath; do not become overwhelmed. If you are struggling with a concept, see step #1; ask for help. While you are waiting for that guidance, switch to a different subject and study that instead. Come back to the other item with a fresh perspective and try it again until you get it. No one gets the “Pass” on the first try every time.

Bottom line is: YOU CAN DO THIS. I consider myself a very driven individual, but WGU gave me the tools to do this thing the right way. Now my outlook on things has shifted even more in the last year because I do have options. Getting my bachelor’s degree from a school that is 100% online and has proper accreditation was important to me. The learning format and the mentors just made it that much more feasible. (Who am I kidding? The cost did too!). They say, “Better late than never,” and I think that cliché applies more than ever at this time in my life. I have since received a promotion at the company I work for; I think that the skills I’ve gained at WGU have also fine-tuned what I already had present and will be a great springboard into what’s next!

Best wishes to you, Future Student!

Melissa Donahue is a WGU graduate, Class of 2011, with a bachelor’s degree in Business/IT Management.  She lives outside Chicago with her husband, a teenage daughter, and a 7-year-old son.  

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