Two and a half years ago, I began my journey toward my Master of Science in Library Science degree. With no library experience under my belt, I was a bit nervous, but I was sure that this was the right path for me. I had hesitated in the past to go back to school because I did not want to move or have to drive an insane amount. When I found out that the University of Kentucky had an online degree program, I was sold.
But I often wondered, for someone as social and hands on as I am, would online classes be right for me? After graduating on May 8, I can look back and see what I liked, what was hard, what I learned, and gain a bit of perspective on the whole experience.
Why it was great:
- I’m a mother: When I started my course work way back in January 2009, I had recently found out that I was expecting my first child. Not a problem, I could work through it. The online courses turned out to be perfect for a mother. I rarely had to be somewhere at a certain time, I didn’t have to be sure someone would be around to watch my son so I could go to class, and when I had not slept or showered, I could still complete my course work. Win!
- I work: I was employed full time when I started classes, and after the birth of my son, when to work part time (this time in a library – yay!). Working and going to school can be tough – but with the flexibility of online classes, it was much easier.
- It was not easy: Sometimes people have the idea that just because the course work is online, it will be a breeze. Not true! I put a lot of time and effort into my course work, and there were times I wanted to pull my hair out with frustration (government documents, anyone?). If you go into online classes with the idea that they will be much easier, think again. I know that through all the blood, sweat and tears I put in, I really earned my Masters.
What was tough:
- Connections: Sometimes, I really missed the relationships that you build in school with professors and other students. I didn’t have anyone to really discuss what I was learning with, except for my husband, who could usually care less. Even graduating was a little weird – I barely spent time on campus, so when I walked in the graduation ceremony, I felt a bit disconnected.
- Time management: Online courses are great for their flexibility, but can also be hard for the same reason. It is so easy to blow off readings or listening to lectures, especially when there is something more interesting to do. And there is always the temptation of getting on Facebook or Twitter when you are supposed to be doing schoolwork.
- Family Life: With any masters program, online or not, there will be sacrifices. When my son was an infant and slept a lot, it was easy to find time to focus on school. As he got bigger, and more mobile, it was hard. I often felt like I was neglecting my husband, and of course my house was always a big mess. But it was worth the payoff.
- Always save in two places: A week before I gave birth I had a major melt down – I thought I had lost my entire summer project, hours of work!
- Dedicate time to school: Life can get in the way, but when you actually schedule the schoolwork in your day, it’s more likely to get done.
- Stay on top of due dates: I almost missed turning in an essay exam, simply because I did not keep a date book with what was due when that semester. This is imperative, and with online courses, work is often due at a specific time, for instance, at 9 am on a certain day. Be sure to note those times!
- Keep in contact with your advisor: In the online learning world, it is easy to avoid any contact with school staff. Be sure you contact your advisor to make sure you are on the right path – you don’t want to discover that really hard class you slaved over counts for nothing.
- Self-Discipline: Many times, it feels as though you are almost teaching yourself, and in a sense, you are. You don’t have a professor that knows you (in person) and can push you when you start to slack off. You don’t have hours dedicated to being in a classroom. You have to be sure that you are spending the appropriate time necessary…no one else will do it for you.
I don’t think that online learning is right for everyone, but it worked for me. I had more motivation to go to school, and since I was paying for it myself, I had even more drive to do well. You have to be disciplined and a self-starter. If you are not someone who can push themselves or often slacks off, really consider if it would be worth it for you to take online courses. You may just be throwing your money away, which I have seen happen. All the hard work paid off for me – I can proudly say I earned my MLS, and graduated with a 4.0 GPA. I am eager to get my library career off the ground!
Have you earned your Masters degree online? What did you like about it, hate about it, or learn in the process? Please, add your comments!