Ten years ago, when we were first introduced to the world of university external degree programs, the concept of college at home was foreign to most of the people we knew. Indeed, my own family probably would never have considered an external degree program if our circumstances had not been very unusual. For us, however, a home study university program was not merely a convenience -- it was a necessity.
When I began the university, I was eleven years old. My parents had home schooled me from first grade through high school and had taken every precaution to shelter me from the corrupting influences and dangerous peer pressures which are part of the public education system. Consequently, they would not even have considered sending me to live on campus at a university. Without an external degree university program, I would have had to wait many years before my college experience began.
Today, ten years later, I can appreciate the many benefits my family and I have realized from our experiences with higher education at home. Because I studied at home, I was able to complete all of the course work for my undergraduate degree in two years, nine months. Yet, on the average, I studied no more than 15 hours a week.
At a traditional university, if I had taken 15 credit hours per semester, I would have spent 15 hours each week in class. Most experts agree that for each hour a college student spends in the classroom, he or she should allot two to three hours preparation time. For me that would have meant 45 hours a week of studying. At home, because all of my study time applied directly to my assignments, and because reading is a much faster way to take in material than sitting in lectures, I was able to cut my study time by two-thirds and still complete a great deal of work.
Through home study I was also able to set my own hours. I did not have to register for whatever classes were available -- rather, I determined the hours which worked best for me. Because I work better in the mornings, I studied from 8:30 until 10:30 each morning, took a two-and-a-half hour break, returned to my studies at 1:00 in the afternoon, and was finished by 2:00. Again, all of this time was applied directly to the assignments I was mailing to my professors; therefore, I had no "homework."
Consistency was critical to the success of this home study program, however. I could not miss days and then try to catch up later. Although I had time in my life for many other activities, my studies had to be a priority -- nothing else could take precedence over my education.
Many adults today are choosing to enroll in external degree programs available through a number of universities. While many of these men and women elect to attend college at home for reasons very different from those of my family, the challenges and rewards facing all external degree students are very much the same. If you are considering beginning an external degree program, or if you are presently enrolled in such a program, the following pointers taken from my own experience as a college student and a college instructor will help you to organize your schedule to make your university experience easier and more rewarding:
Set Up Your Own Schedule
Just as I did, you must set aside a certain number of hours a week that you will study. Obviously, the amount of time you can devote to your education will be determined in large part by the number of other obligations in your life. A married individual with children and a full-time job will not have as many hours to devote to a home study program as a single adult who works part-time. Nevertheless, it is important to make a commitment to yourself to study a definite number of hours each week. Perhaps you want to schedule nine hours a week for study time. Remember that this is approximately two-thirds less time than you would spend studying if you were enrolled in a traditional university program. All nine hours will apply directly toward your assignments, which are usually better organized than the reading requirements and assignments in a traditional classroom course. So you will be producing more work than you would be in a comparable amount of time spent in a college classroom.
Set Up Regular Class Hours
This is one of the most critical factors in maintaining a successful home study program. Divide your total number of weekly hours into small enough increments so that you can handle them easily. For instance, if you have determined to devote nine hours a week to your studies, it would be very unwise to schedule all nine hours to be completed every Saturday. Under such an arrangement, if you missed one Saturday of studying, you would have missed your entire week's work. Instead, it would be preferable to schedule three hours of study time three days each week. Have a definite time when you begin your studying and a definite time when you finish. Because you are studying at home, your schedule is flexible. As the demands of your life and work change, your study hours can change with them. Once you have set your schedule, however, you should not change it without a good reason. When you have disciplined yourself to study at a set time, you will find that you have overcome one of the biggest obstacles to studying at home.
Do not set unrealistic goals; set up a schedule that you can live with over a long period of time. For example, if you know that you love to go bowling on Monday nights, do not schedule study time on Monday evenings -- you will not keep that obligation. Likewise, do not promise yourself that you will study all weekend every weekend -- in two weeks you will be burned out. Understand that your home study program requires a long-term commitment, so plan study time that will work for you over a period of years. A well defined schedule will contribute to a more successful experience with higher education at home.