How to Make the Most Out of Your Next Online Degree

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By Contributing Author 

In the early days online education was minimal, because it did not have the tools nor the confidence to become a fully realized approach to education. Yet, people pushed forward. They worked to bridge the gap that would make online education not just a cute game to play at, but a great way to improve the skillset and training of working professionals everywhere.

Online education is perfectly suited for those who need to work. Perhaps it is in your best interest to work while you learn, for the sake of your career. Perhaps you have responsibilities and need the financial security. It doesn’t matter why you need to work while learn, because with online education you can make significant steps towards your future, without the hassle of night school.

That being said, online education is inherently different than its in-school counterpart. You need to know how to properly take advantage of all there is to offer, as well as how to adapt your schedule and routine so you can successfully take on your degree and your career.

You can get so much out of online education; all you need is to use the tips outlined in this guide:

You Must Know What You Want to Get Out of Your Online Education

For some careers, the degree you need to go for is easy to choose. Nursing, for example, has clear-cut online nursing programs that you need to complete in order to be able to take the state exam and then move on to the next level of nursing. This also applies for ongoing training and education you may need to take to renew your license, depending on the state you live in.

For others, it isn’t quite so easy. The only thing you need to check for with online nursing programs is accreditation, though the best education will offer many more benefits and resources to help you succeed. For others, like those looking to earn a marketing degree, or perhaps even an MBA, the answer isn’t so obvious.

The fact is you don’t always need to complete an online degree to succeed. Online nursing programs and similar industries are different, yes, because there are state and federal requirements you need to achieve before you can work. For marketing? For business? In these types of industries additional education is more icing on the cake than a foundational essential.

That is why you need to be very clear about what you want to get out of your education and to make sure that the degree you are looking at will help you achieve it.

This even applies to essential degrees, like online nursing programs. While any accredited degree will make you applicable to take the state exam, the quality of your education and how well you can juggle your career and your degree matter.

A good way to determine whether you need the degree is by asking yourself the following questions:

  1. Are you legally required to have the degree?
  2. Will the degree help teach you key skills you are missing?
  3. Can the degree help you apply for higher-level positions?
  4. Will the degree help you with a planned career change?

Qualities Your Online Degree Should Have

Being sure that you want to work towards a degree is one of the best first steps you can take because you need the dedication to see it through. Even in nursing, you need that dedication to complete online nursing programs. Some are happy to stop their efforts after they work to become a Registered Nurse. Others want to strive for higher and higher positions and will benefit from working for a Master of Nursing Science and even a Doctorate in Nursing Practice.

The degrees you end up choosing to enroll in, however, will vary drastically from one to another. You need your online education to support you in your career and also to be worth every penny. To ensure that the degree in question offers this, no matter the industry, check for these qualities:

1.    Accreditation

Accreditation isn’t everything. Some degrees are incredible and aren’t formally accredited, and in some cases can’t be because they push the envelope too far. That being said, accreditation does have its moments. Accredited degrees are essential if you need to have a qualified degree to earn your license. They are also a great way to showcase the value of your degree to employers, even if they haven’t heard of the university itself.

2.    Designed for Working Professionals

An online degree that hasn’t been designed to be completed alongside a career is often not worth your time, especially if your goal is to continue to work.

Look for degrees that:

  • Have no mandatory log-in times
  • Have around 15 to 20 hours of coursework per week, max
  • Allow for breaks between courses
  • Allow you to complete just one course at a time
  • Are designed for those working Monday to Friday (or in nursing, shift work)

3.    Are Highly Recommended by Alumni

You should never get too caught up in the ranking of a university. Though it can help the notoriety of your degree, after the top ten they start to lose their importance. Instead, look at alumni feedback. If others who have finished their degree believe wholeheartedly that their degree have helped them achieve their goals, and highly recommend their institution, then you’ve found a great choice of school.

How to Make the Most Out of Your Online Degree

All the effort thus far will help you choose the right degree for your goals. Even online nursing programs will vary massively in terms of quality, even if they all allow you to earn your license. The effort it takes to find the best of the best for you is worth every second.

It gives you the best start, but to make the most out of your online degree, you will want to follow these suggestions:

Make Learning and Studying a Natural Part of Your Routine

Learning, working on your degree, like any of the online nursing programs, and revising should become a natural part of your routine. This is particularly true with degrees like any of the online nursing programs, where what you learn could mean life or death.

Don’t cram before an exam. Instead of making learning and studying such a natural part of your routine, you know everything by heart by the time your exams roll around.

1.    Morning Routine

Mornings should be about fueling for your day. Wake up, have a shower, eat a full breakfast, and give yourself this time to center your mind and prepare for the day.

2.    Commuting Routine

Commuting is where your learning and revising schedule should start. This applies if you drive, bike, or take public transport. You could catch up on reading during your commute, yes, but if your degree is like any of the online nursing programs and has exams for you to complete, it is better to spend the time revising.

This can be written notes if you take public transport or are carpooling in, or you could create your own audio notes if you are driving or biking in. This can be done manually, by reading out your notes, or through the text-to-voice feature build into your phone.

3.    Lunch Routine

Lunch needs to be where you refuel. Try to eat a meal that works to provide you with lasting energy (proteins, for example) while avoiding heavy fats or refined sugars. Both can make it hard to stay active and motived over time.

4.    After-Work Routine

The bulk of when you learn should be after work. Try to do this as soon as you can. If you are studying while working from home, this is a very easy transition. If you are a nurse working towards their next online nursing program, it can be more challenging. You can’t just stay after work to finish up your coursework before you go home, as this could take up space patients need, or you may get in the way.

If there is a space for you to work quietly, absolutely take it, otherwise you will want to have a set up at home for you to be productive in. Try to get at least two or even three hours of work done after you get home.

5.    Weekend Routine

You should ideally have a few days off for yourself. If you work Monday to Friday, this will be the weekend. By taking breaks to recuperate, both mentally and physically, you can stay committed to your work/study routines during the week.

For nurses, it isn’t always so easy. That is why online nursing programs are often the most flexible of all types of online degrees. You may work in shifts instead, in which case you won’t want to work on your degree after work, but instead on your days off. In this situation, still, try to keep one or two days a week free just to relax, prep healthy food, see friends if possible, and relax.

Safeguarding Your Health

Caring for your health cannot just be done on your days off. It is how you can stay healthier by prepping homemade lunches in advance, but it is not enough to only care about your health or diet on those days off.

Instead, you need to make it routine, and with these tips, you can make being healthy as natural as breathing.

1.    Eat Healthier on a Busy Schedule

Start with your diet. Your body needs an assortment of vitamins and nutrients to operate at its best. Unfortunately, most of us will not get these vitamins or nutrients, especially if we have loaded our schedules with a career and a degree. Active careers, like nursing, are even worse. You are on your feet all day, have patients waiting for you, and barely have a moment to yourself, much less to eat anything beyond what you can get at the cafeteria or from a vending machine.

You can avoid this with preparation. Get loved ones over to help you prep your meals (and even dinners, if necessary), so you always have healthy, delicious meals to eat during the day. Do this with snacks as well. Instead of going for a chocolate bar, go for a protein bar as it will help you stay energized for much longer.

2.    Sleep Better with Routine

If you can, just be consistent with when you go to bed and when you wake up. Your circadian rhythm will take care of the rest.

For shift works, try to stick to a strict wind-down and wake-up routine so you can physically prepare your mind for sleeping and waking up.

3.    Exercise for Better Energy Consumption

Exercise strengthens your body. This means you can get through more in the day without physically exhausting yourself. You also benefit from improving the circulation of oxygen through your brain.

The issue is trying to exercise while working and tackling a full degree. Not that you cannot do it but starting an exercise routine from nothing will cause more damage than benefits. Ideally, you will want to start a better exercise routine a month or two before you start your degree. If you haven’t, stick with light exercises. Yoga, in particular, is a great one to start as it improves flexibility and provides that oxygen circulation through your brain.

Avoid Burnout by Caring for Your Mental Health

The last thing that you want, especially if you are completing online nursing degrees, is burnout. It isn’t just your life or your future on the line in these situations. You owe it to every one of your patients to care for your mental health because nursing is a very hard job to do. It is emotionally taxing and can be very traumatic.

You can avoid burnout by:

  • Having Days Off
  • Scheduling Breaks
  • Sharing Your Worries
  • Seeking Out Mental Health Support
  • Not Taking on Too Much at Once

However, mental health is a complex part of ourselves. Mental illness doesn’t care one iota if everything else in your life is going right. Mental fatigue can happen in almost any situation, but particularly when working through a pandemic. Care for yourself, because it is only when you put your mental health first that you can avoid burnout, stay positive, and see your goals through.

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