Six Ps For Graduate School Success For New Online Students
The most excitement I found in my role as a faculty member at University of the Rockies and now as a program chair at Ashford University is getting to teach new online students. I was once a new, online, non-traditional, graduate student, and that nervous energy that I had was a unique and overwhelming experience for me. I certainly struggled at first, but I stuck with it and completed my doctoral degree! New, online, non-traditional graduate students face a myriad of stressors and challenges that are involved in maintaining life/work/school balance. Having been where new students are, I offer some tips that helped me and other students succeed - the Six Ps to success for new students transitioning to graduate school online.
Be present in class and interact with faculty, staff, and other students regularly. Get to know your instructors, advisors, and peers. Your online presence will help build a sense of community and will make you feel more invested in the experience.
Celebrate even the smallest success to help build your confidence. Praise any progress or attempts at the progress that you make, as any small success is one step closer to your goal. Also, help motivate and inspire others around you in class. There is something that just feels good about authentically praising others (and receiving genuine praise)!
Understand that the first week or two can be overwhelming, so set clear and attainable goals for yourself, and articulate to your friends and family how much time that you estimate being unavailable each week due to school-related tasks. If you think you will need 10 hours to study, then add another 2 hours to that time so that you may end up finishing earlier rather than later. Family members or friends may be more supportive and patient when they see you finishing up ‘earlier’ than planned! Also, if you are computer savvy and notice another peer struggling in class, then be kind and offer help; treat that fellow student as you would wish to be treated when you were learning new technology.
You may feel like giving up the first day, the first week, the first month, but don’t let quitting become an option! Graduate school is difficult, and there are many valid reasons why not everyone holds a master’s or doctoral degree. Your instructors, advisors, and peers in class are here for you to lean on when you need that extra support. Keep telling yourself that you can and will do this! Believe in yourself--be strong and persistent.
You might be a little rusty at grammar, yet strong in organization and flow of a paper, or you may be strong at writing, competent at critical thinking, but weak at APA application. Keep working on enhancing your strengths, but also identify and diligently work on any weaknesses. Read instructor feedback thoroughly. Ask your instructor questions and inquire how you can improve if you feel that any feedback could use more clarity.
Take time for yourself. Seek out a peaceful setting to meditate, practice mindfulness or yoga, listen to music, exercise, pick up a hobby, chat with a friend, or even just sit and enjoy a quiet few moments not thinking about school, work, or any other potentially stressful activities. Regular self-care is absolutely vital to your success as a graduate student. Listen to your body and know when it is time to step back and take a break. Get enough sleep, eat healthy foods, drink water, and be certain to take a few minutes a day to be in the moment.
Earning your master’s or doctoral degree can be an attainable goal! Show up and be actively engaged in class with your instructor and peers to inspire others and be inspired. Find ways to celebrate all steps in the process of your journey. Take it easy on yourself and understand that the first week or two will be tough, but you will have your graduate school ‘sea legs’ in time. Ask friends and family to be patient with you. Don’t allow yourself to entertain the thought of giving up on your academic goals—be consistently tenacious. Work hard on improving your strengths, but work even harder on your weaknesses. Most importantly, take care of yourself during this journey. You won’t always be ‘new,’ and you won’t always feel new at this, thankfully.
Change in life routines can be hard, but you might find that the adjustment to this transition of being a new online student can happen more smoothly over time if you are applying the Six Ps!
Written by Dr. Kristin Ballard, program chair, Human Services, Ashford University College of Health, Human Services, and Science