My college matriculation was interrupted nearly half way through an undergraduate degree program by a death in our family, and a desire to return to my hometown to be closer to relatives. After taking time off to get married, start a job, and start a family, I decided to return to the classroom to continue an online degree program via distance learning.
I recognized that without a degree, my career opportunities would be somewhat limited in the field I was working, and a college degree was a personal goal I wasn’t willing to give up on just yet. The traditional classroom experience was not for me. There I was, a 25 year-old guy surrounded by 19 year-old sophomores.
It was tough to find much in common when the general discussions were who was having a party that weekend, and which sorority had the cutest girls. I wondered to myself how many parents would pull the tuition payments if they knew what these guys were really doing here.
I also missed my family terribly. My work schedule was a traditional 8:00-5:00, but I had classes four nights a week from 6:00-10:00. Except for a quick dinner break, I didn’t see my wife and daughter more than half an hour during the week. I began to look at online degree programs and enrolled in a 100% online program.
Distance Learning Requires Lots of Discipline
Online degree programs require a ton of self-discipline. With no classes requiring your attendance, and no professors spoon-feeding notes for an exam, it was up to you to progress through the syllabus and meet required deadlines. I found myself blocking off Sunday afternoons as “study days,” and they usually took place at the nearest Barnes and Noble or Starbucks store. If I stayed around the house it was too tempting to find an NFL game on, or play outside with my daughter.
Online Degree Program Costs
Online degree programs are usually more expensive than traditional, on-campus programs. My tuition ran about $1,500 a semester and the online program had five semesters a year (including a “mini-semester” during the summer). The company I worked for pulled the plug on tuition reimbursements due to their own financial struggles.
Since I didn’t have $7,000 lying around, plus textbooks (sure wish I had known about Chegg.com to rent them!), much of the annual expense went on my Visa card. In retrospect, it was this accumulation of credit card debt that caused much of my financial troubles, but at the time I was so focused on finishing school it was a hit I was willing to take.
Degrees, in general, are an important element to career success, but it is the ability to apply knowledge that helps climb the corporate ladder. Our society has bought into the false notion that once you obtain a degree a door magically opens to a successful career with big money and lots of perks. The reality is that employers are looking for people who can apply knowledge in the workplace.
I attribute about 30% of my success to my degree; the remaining 70% has come from a strong work ethic and the ability to get along with people. Unfortunately, these aren’t things that can be learned in a classroom.