My husband is active- duty, so we move more than the average family. Attending a brick- and-mortar school was therefore not an option to help me achieve my educational goals.
I knew that if I truly wanted a college education I was going to have to take classes online.
At first, the courses I took were manageable without really having to adjust my priorities. However, the further I got in my degree program, the more difficult my classes became.
I had to teach myself how to be an online student and how to study. Most of all I had to teach myself how to prioritize my objectives and responsibilities in order to effectively manage my class load. I had to learn time management.
I used calendars and kept notes for my classes and also for my personal objectives. I set reminders on my phone to help keep me ahead of the game. I would also list my objectives in priority order so that I knew what I needed to accomplish first. This helped me focus on the task at hand and not on what was less important.
About mid-way through my bachelor’s program, my husband received orders to deploy for seven months. I took full advantage of this situation and focused 100 percent on my studies. I graduated in December 2007 with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice. As it turns out, that was the easiest part of my college education.
After my husband’s return from deployment, I decided that I wanted to pursue a master’s degree. This period of college was more challenging in that I gave birth to two boys, 21 months apart, moved twice in 10 months, and dealt with military obstacles all while attending online classes. I would study during the morning while my children napped and stayed up most nights trying to get my assignments completed on time.
Some days I didn’t know how I was going to accomplish it all. My schedule seemed overly full: wake up early, child care, cleaning, cooking meals, laundry, and running errands, all while fitting in school.
I realized I had to prioritize in order to be successful as an online college student. I function by following a strict schedule, writing everything down, and being well organized. I am what my friends call a “planner.” In keeping a strict schedule, I don’t overload myself with more than I can handle.
I have many lists: one for the day, the week, and the month. This helps me to visualize what I need to do both immediately and in the future. As far as organization is concerned, I have a folder on my computer for each class. This allows me to keep assignments and class material organized. This was especially effective when I took more than one class at a time.
I reached my goal of a master’s in psychology June 2009. Once a student who hated high school, I discovered a love for education and the importance of reaching goals.
Three months after graduation I accepted a teaching position for an online university and soon after enrolled in a doctoral program. I am currently working on my dissertation while teaching, being a mother, military wife, and catching my breath when I can.
Life definitely has its challenges but only happens once, so why not set goals and accomplish them? I truly believe that having a college education has made me a more independent, courageous, and confident person who can better manage whatever life brings forth.
I reflect on my efforts and challenges as learning tools that help me face everyday life by keeping positive. Although I missed some opportunities to be with family and friends because of studying, I focused on being able to provide a better future for my family.
For me, setting a schedule and developing a routine were keys to my success. Part of that schedule is taking breaks from studying by exercising, doing housework, reading, or playing with my kids. You can do it too, by mapping out a schedule that works for you.
Nichole Ahlstrom holds a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice Administration and a Master of Science in Psychology from the University of Phoenix. She is currently working on her Doctor of Management in Organizational Leadership degree with the University of Phoenix. She is an adjunct faculty member at American Public University. Nichole lives in Okinawa, Japan with her husband, who is an active duty Marine, and they have two boys. Nichole has been affiliated with the Marine Corps since 2003. Nichole loves being a mother, spending time with her family, volunteering, exercising, and traveling.