So you’ve decided to go back to school to earn a degree. Whether you are finishing your Bachelors degree, pursuing a Masters or even a PhD, going back to school is a big decision. With online classes or “distance learning” as an option, your decision might be a little easier. Accredited colleges and universities offer Undergraduate, Masters and even Doctorate programs in an on-line environment so you can attend class at a time that is convenient for you.

Asynchronous learning makes getting a degree more of an option for many, including working adults and parents. Many on-line programs are reasonably priced and offer tremendous flexibility. But don’t mistake on-line classes as being easier than traditional brick and mortar classes. For typical degree programs in an on-line environment, you can expect to have to put a lot of time and effort into your academic pursuits.

These are the things you must consider before making your final decision:

Time to complete the degree: You must consider the time it will take to complete the degree and make sure you can stick with it for the duration. An undergraduate degree can take anywhere from two to four years to complete depending on how many classes you can take at once and how many breaks you take during the program. Masters programs might take approximately a year and a half to two years, and a PhD or Doctorate could take as long as five or six years, or as little as three years. Many schools allow you to take extended breaks if you need to, but when you do this, there is more temptation not to return.

Monetary concerns: Going back to school requires a significant financial investment and understanding your options is very important. You must consider how you will pay for your continuing education. Will you pay out of pocket, get a loan or apply for scholarships? Whichever route you choose, you must plan ahead and stay on top of your financial obligations. Schools have financial aid counselors available to help you choose the best options for you.

Time needed for classes and studying: Earning a degree requires a considerable investment of time every week. While on-line classes allow flexibility with your schedule during the week, the coursework can be quite intense at times and you must be prepared to meet attendance requirements and assignment deadlines. On-line classes could require anywhere from 10-20 hours per week, when you are a working adult. While this may seem like a lot when you are working or parenting, it is manageable if you are dedicated. So make sure you have the time to invest before making the jump.

Impact to those close to you: You may not think that going back to school will have such a big impact to family members, but think again. You will not have as much time to spend with loved ones when you are focused on a paper that is due the next day. You may have to forgo a social event or family function in order to meet a deadline and while others in the house are asleep, you may be chugging coffee and reading a textbook.

So prepare yourself and your family members for this commitment. Make sure that the ones closest to you are completely supportive. When you are particularly stressed and complain about school, the last thing you need is someone you love saying, “I told you this wasn’t a good idea!” You need the people closest to you offering support and encouragement. They will be very proud when you have degree in hand.

Going back to school to pursue a degree can be an extremely rewarding experience. On-line education offers flexibility and options that you just could not get from traditional schools. Take the time to consider all of the options before jumping in. The more time and planning you put in to the decision, the more likely you are to be successful. When you complete the program and have degree in hand, all that time and effort will be well worth your while.

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