By Nana Morrison
M.S. Management and Leadership Graduate, 2016
When I started writing this piece of advice, I was at the finishing line of my graduate program. As compared to my undergraduate days, my thought process has been transformed, which has made a difference in the way I saw things as a graduate student. In the beginning, I thought there was no need for a master’s degree—until that phone conversation with my dad, which changed everything.
My parents have been strong believers in my education since I was a kid. My mom’s education got her to the middle-school level, and my dad was able to finish high school. They both could not go further with their education due to financial hardship. This was a synopsis of the conversation I had with my dad, which made me focus on continuing my education.
Why did I choose WGU? Simply put: It was the mode of learning. The competency-based system will ensure a graduate is able to apply his or her knowledge in school and in the real world after degree completion. Getting a degree at WGU is analogous to an athlete who has put in all the extra preparations throughout his/her career. The main competition will arrive after graduation. This is the time to go out there and prove yourself to the world that you are a true champion. This is what competency-based education prepares you for—to prove yourself throughout your professional life as you continue on your path to lifelong learning.
If you are reading this article today, I believe you also have that spark for lifelong learning that I had. My familiarity with online education at the bachelor’s level gave me the confidence that I needed to further my graduate program at WGU. This is because I knew what the expectations were and what I needed to do on my path to be successful. In the first place, online learning is not for everyone—every individual has a unique learning style. A self-motivated person is most likely to succeed in an online degree program. After considering my fit in an online program, there was only one thing missing: I need to really get to know the expectations of what graduate programs entail. To answer that question, I remember taking part in my first conference call hosted by Dr. R. Doctor in one of my early courses, which answered all of my questions and set the stage for the next step in my education. Through that conference call, I had the opportunity to understand the expectations at the graduate level—expectations for written responses to assessment questions and what evaluators look for in a written paper, for example. This conference call elevated my confidence level by 60% and made me believe that I could do this. The remaining 40%, I realized, was really an issue of studying appropriately for my objective assessments and strengthening my academic writing skills for my performance assessments. Based on my personal experience, these following five things are what students must do to be successful at WGU:
1. Participate in conference calls: Students should find time or do their best when it comes to participating in conference calls. This is where you get most of your questions answered in live time. I understand the nature of circumstances where students cannot make time due to personal/professional duties; however, do your best to follow up with the recorded version of conference calls if it is available or posted in your programs' courses.
2. Plan. Be one-step ahead: This is one of the things I continue to do throughout my life. It has become part of my daily routine. Planning always minimizes any surprises and helps you overcome any challenges down the line. It also falls in line with time management as one of the critical tools one has to be familiar with in order to be successful at this level. How you prepare weekly for your courses or using the pacing guide are two good examples. If you are going by the pacing guide in your courses or programs, always be at least one week ahead of the related topic that you need to cover. This practice will buy you some extra time when life gets in the way of your study plans, allowing you to finish your courses on (or ahead of) schedule.
3. Get in touch with the Writing Center: No matter how good you are with the writing process or skills, you still need to get in touch with the Writing Center for instruction and revision skills. If you are a beginner, just as I was when I started my graduate program two years ago, I advise you to get in touch with them for your first written assignment before you submit your work for evaluation. I have experienced a vast change in my writing skills now, especially with my APA in-text citations, references, and minimizing mechanical errors that I normally make in the writing process. I can also edit and proofread my written work with confidence, thanks to all my mentors at the Writing Center who contributed to my success. Special acknowledgement goes to Dr. Gordon, Dr. Tweedy, and Dr. Gbur for putting me to the test on my writing skills. I still get in touch with them for the sake of a second opinion about my written work.
4. Objective assessment preparations: For those of you who have yet to take your first objective assessment, this tip will be especially helpful. Start your preparation with the pre-assessment. Even if you pass a pre-assessment on your first try, I advise you to take it again before you take the final assessment. This helps you make sure you are ready for the final one. You have to be prepared for any questions that may appear on the final assessment and remember that the sole purpose of the pre-assessment is to help you hone in on what you still need to learn so you can study and be well-prepared for the final assessment. Use the pre-assessment questions that you found most challenging to identify where to spend your study time on the final assessment.
5. Ask questions: Always remember to ask questions when you do not understand a subject or subject matter. Student mentors and course mentors are there to answer your questions. You normally talk to your student mentor on a more consistent basis than your course mentors, so please ask him or her questions. Every question asked represents an opportunity to find a solution to a problem
If you follow these five suggestions, I believe you will be successful in your graduate program here at WGU. Success multiplies success. Just as I have become successful at WGU, so I wish the same for you to be successful in your degree program. Being successful at WGU is like going on a long road trip to another state fully prepared with all the mechanical services done on your vehicle that give you the assurance of a safe and exciting trip.
I am very happy to share my experience with you, and I wish you the best.