Mommy's Going Back to School

Due to the financial aid and diverse schooling options available today, it has become increasingly common for adults to return to school later in life. In particular, numerous women are choosing to pursue higher education despite the demands of a busy lifestyle. Far from eighteen-year-old freshmen, these brave women have careers, run households, and belong to a community. More importantly, they are mothers.

When my son was just twelve months old, I decided it was time for me to go back to school and finish my degree. I had two years worth of college classes under my belt, a full-time job as a stay-at-home mom, and sporadic online work that wouldn’t cover the cost of day-care. After researching the options available to me, I applied and was accepted to a state college that offered four-year online degrees.

As it happened, I didn’t know a single other person who was a full-time, online student – and I had dozens of questions. In case you happen to be in the same boat (or about to climb aboard), I thought I’d share a few:

How does it work? 

My first week of online school was also my first introduction to the virtual blackboard, the proverbial mother-lode of information. If you’ve never used Blackboard before, imagine a single website which contains all of your student information, coursework, and a glossary of blackboard terms to help you navigate your way through the system.

Under each course title is a list of links pertaining to the class. These links generally include the professor’s information, the syllabus, the calendar, the assignment modules, the discussion board, external links, and grades – everything the student needs to take a class from home, minus textbooks.  It may be a bit daunting at first sight, but in the end you’ll come to love having all your pertinent school information saved in a single, easily-accessible location. Assuming you’re Type A like me.

What’s the coursework like? 

At the school I attended, the academic year was separated into the quarter system. Students were allowed to take one to four classes every three months. I’ve heard other students say they prefer online classes because they are easier than actually attending a school location. This may be true depending on the school you choose and the classes you take. The entirety of my coursework consisted of upper level literature classes and two electives, so I did not find the coursework easier than the classes I had previously taken in school.

Coursework generally involves excessive reading and research, numerous papers, lectures which come in video form, online quizzes and discussions, journal entries pertaining to the material being studied, and, of course, exams. My year of online school was largely spent reading six Norton Anthologies, cover to cover, and writing dozens of book reviews, essays, and research papers. I will never write a five-point essay again (she says, with twitching left eye).

How do you interact with the professors and other students? 

I actually became friends with several of my fellow students and professors via the online discussion board, email, and phone. This is rather like making Facebook friends, if you will.

The discussion board is a forum on blackboard that allows students and professors to interact with each other on a daily basis, discuss the material being covered, leave feedback on assignments, and ask questions pertaining to the coursework. For example, in my photography class we were able to view and leave feedback concerning the photographs each student took per module. In my Jane Austen class, on the other hand, the discussion board was like an online book club. And in Western Lit, it was debate club.

How do you take exams? 

Online students are responsible for finding their own proctor and scheduling their own exams during midterm or finals week. The proctor is generally expected to be a faculty member at an accredited college or university, or a librarian at any public library that offers proctoring services. This, of course, means that there will most likely be an official Proctor Request Form which must be approved before exam week.

All of my midterms were proctored by a professor at a nearby university. My finals, however, were online (you guessed it: via blackboard!) Online exams are timed and often proctored with a webcam. One thing to keep in mind: if you’re taking an online exam, make sure you are using the correct internet browser before you begin. I forgot to do this before one of my exams and had to retake it later because my browser wouldn’t let me hit the “next” button. I was a nervous wreck for weeks.

What are the benefits of online schooling? 

There are numerous benefits to online schooling, the first of which is location. If location is everything, the online student has it made. They can study from home, from the local coffeehouse, and while traveling out of state. They can study in their pajamas if they want (I did).

Coursework is generally offered in a variety of formats, catering to the needs of individual students. My school not only offered regular Online classes, but also Prior-Learning-Assessment courses (earning credit via prior college-level knowledge), E-Pack courses (a series of exams which result in a final Pass or Fail), and Guided Study Courses (designed for the independent student). Also, online schools will often accept credit by examination. These include CLEP (College Level Examination Program) and DANTES exams. I tested out of six classes via CLEP exams while enrolled online (and almost died – but it was worth it). I know students who have obtained entire degrees merely by taking these exams (and believe it or not, they aren’t robots). It’s certainly a cheaper and quicker route to finishing school.

Most importantly, online school is designed for the parent and the working adult, allowing them to study at their own pace while keeping up with the regular demands of a busy lifestyle (not to mention it’s usually cheaper, too). That’s not to say it’s easy juggling a kid in one arm and a textbook in the other – believe me, I know. But there are so many options available to mothers: http://www.guidetocareereducation.com.  And chances are your kid’ll be smarter for it too. Mine had the entirety of American literature read aloud to him before he was three years old. I’m sure he’s retained all of it.
How can I succeed as an online student? 

Online students are solely responsible for learning the coursework, completing the assignment, and meeting the deadline – all by themselves. Subsequently, success is entirely dependent on self-motivation, self-discipline, and knowing when to give it a rest. Naturally these aren’t things you can learn overnight, but like any skill they can be developed with time, experience, and practice.

Take it from someone who thought she was going to fall off the bandwagon during the first quarter. Instead, I bribed myself. I took frequent trips to Starbucks, studied outdoors while tanning, and wrote lengthy blog posts in which I vented my complaints and other things I won’t mention. And now, thanks to online schooling, I have a B.A. in English and am doing what I love best – writing.  Chin up, soldier, you can do it too! 


  1. Really great post! I tried to find a way to say so on the other site, but they don't seem to have a comment option... Hopefully the number of times I went back to the page trying to figure it out will count as 'increased web traffic' or something, and show them that you should be invited back many more times. :D

  2. Why thank you love!

    I went back and couldn't find the comment section either.

    Oh well.

    Just means nobody can tell me about any errors I may have printed.

  3. Yay for your first guest post! It was a great one! I'm currently a full time student on campus, and have only taken one online course in my whole college career. But I do think the system is set up very nicely. I love blackboard and the discussion forums. Several classes I've been in utilize these and it makes for a great learning experience outside the classroom, in my opinion!

  4. I think so too! Although, nothing beats actually going to class. . . and seeing other people look as confused as you feel.

  5. I heard about ChaCha, but never really looked into it that well. I headed back to college a year ago, but my mother had heart surgery (very serious surgery) and I could not focus on my family and make visits to the hospital/nursing home etc. I have yet to get back. Five kids at home makes if very difficult. Very.

  6. Wow I can imagine! Well. . . here's to hoping you can find the time someday soon, if you want to go back to school!

    I am sorry to hear about your mother.

  7. Congrats on your guest post! Very well written, but that's what we get when you're the author. :)


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