Planning for Success: Things to Consider Before Starting an Online Program

by User Not Found | Oct 30, 2017

by Elizabeth Osika, Ph.D. | October 30, 2017

Planning for Success header

If thoughts of going back to school are running through your head and you find yourself terrified and excited at the same time; consider yourself normal. Returning to school is a decision that will impact every aspect of your life, now and in the future. In fact, there are not too many other decisions that can have more of a positive impact on you and your family’s long-term success than obtaining your education.

Before you make the leap, it’s important to have a plan in place. Use the following recommendations to get a jump start.

Prepare those involved

Going back to school will impact you and those individuals with whom you live, work, and socialize. Take time to make sure you adequately prepare everyone so they know what to expect and will help advocate for you, instead of creating barriers for you to overcome.

Start with yourself. Make sure you’re willing to put forth the time and effort needed to succeed. Typically, a three-credit hour course should take about 135 hours to complete in a semester. If you are doing this on an accelerated schedule, this would mean spending about 15 to 20 hours a week on your studies for just one class.

Don’t forget your family and friends. Whether it’s a spouse, children, parents, or friends, the time and focus you need to excel in your studies will significantly reduce the time you have available for them. Make sure they understand why earning your degree is necessary and how it will help your family in the future.

Prepare your home. You’ll need a space where you can go to study. It should have a computer with an Internet connection, and be removed from the hustle and bustle of the household. While some students have succeeded in completing online courses by using computers at the library, at their friend’s homes, or just relied on their phones, this adds a barrier to your success.

Leverage your support system

Don’t go it alone. You’ll need a support system. Discuss what things can be adjusted and what things you just can’t miss. Maybe it’s having your daughter stay at grandma’s on Friday nights or your neighbor run the kids to practice on Saturdays so you can catch up on homework. Work out a schedule that gives you the time needed for class but doesn’t make you feel guilty for missing important events. Ask for help. You may be surprised with just how much people are willing to step up.

Find your cheerleaders and identify the naysayers. Obtaining a degree is a long process full of highs and lows. You’ll need some cheerleaders in your corner for when things get tough to help pick you up and keep you on track. However, you may also notice others who seem to take pleasure in sabotaging your efforts, for whatever reason. Identify them early and take steps to isolate their negativity.

Access available resources

Use the resources available. Marian University offers a wide variety of resources to help students succeed. This includes a Help Desk for technical questions, the Writing Center to help improve writing, tutoring services both in person and online, advisors to discuss course planning and experiences, and librarians to help locate information. Take advantage of any and all of these services. The most important thing to remember, however, is that it is okay to ask for help. Ask BEFORE you become frustrated and BEFORE the situation becomes dire, this way you will be able to finish strong.

Navigate effectively through your course

Be proactive in learning. Once you’re enrolled in a course, take the time to understand what is expected, so you can effectively navigate through the requirements. Start by downloading and printing the syllabus; keep it handy and refer to it often. Transfer due dates to your personal calendar and include reminders to keep you on target for important assignments.

Block off set times to work on the course. The biggest mistake students make when participating in an online course is to not schedule time for homework. Since there is no set time to meet, as with a course on campus, students often forget or put off doing the work until it is due. This often leaves students scrambling to throw something together to meet an assignment deadline. Do yourself a favor and set regular times during the week to focus on your studying. Remember, you will need to plan for 15 to 20 hours a week for an accelerated course.

Finally, actively engage with the students and instructor in the class. Make an effort to participate in discussions. Reach out to your instructor and classmates to ask questions about the content or share information and experiences you may have. Just because a class is online and you do not “see” everyone, does not mean you are unable to develop relationships and network. Take advantage of the opportunity to build connections which may last well beyond the course.

For related posts, check out "8 Time Management Tips for Coping with the Stress of Going Back to School" and "11 Tips for Non-Traditional Students."


Liz OsikaWith over twenty years of experience in higher education, Liz brings a wealth of knowledge in instructional best practices, support and administration of online programs, academic computing, and faculty development. In previous positions of administration and as a tenured professor, she has an understanding of what it takes to be effective in and out of the classroom. Liz’s focus at the CTL will be to provide oversight and direction for how we can work together to improve the learning environment for our students whether it be in a classroom on campus or online.  

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