“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”George Washington Carver
Military spouses face particular challenges in completing their education. Continuous moves from changes in duty station make completing a degree at a traditional brick and mortar school nearly impossible. As a military spouse myself, I know firsthand how jam-packed days can get, particularly with fitting in all the needs of family with regular moves and deployments of our spouses.
The availability and flexibility of online universities offer the perfect solution. In addition to being a military spouse, I have been a professor at an online University for the past nine years. During that time, I have had the opportunity to see those practices which lead to success. They are the skills at which military spouses excel: planning, organization and building connections.
First, plan your schedule carefully
As a new student, begin by taking one class at a time. Many new students enthusiastically sign up for multiple classes and quickly become overwhelmed, juggling the course requirements in addition to all of their other commitments. Get the feel for the online environment and thoroughly learn how to navigate through the classroom. Once you get more comfortable and have a few classes under your belt, then begin to take more than one class at a time.
Next, organize your study schedule
Analyze both your current schedule and your own daily energy levels. Decide where you can block off time in your schedule to devote to your coursework. If possible, time these periods with when you are most alert and can have a quiet environment to think, such as before the kids wake up or after they go to school. Review the course syllabus and break down assignments, especially larger projects, into smaller, more manageable pieces. Set incremental goals to ensure you are making adequate daily progress. Finally, work ahead if possible to give yourself time for review and editing. Working ahead tremendously cuts down on stress and gives you leeway when the unexpected happens.
Be very active in the classrooms.
You may be hesitant at first but jump into the discussion. Students who are active in the classroom are extremely successful in their courses. You will quickly find that as a military spouse you know more than you think, so share your valuable experiences and opinions with your colleagues. Active students learn more from giving and receiving feedback on their thinking. Ask questions and learn from your instructors and fellow students. The more active you are, the more connected you will feel.
Build connections within the online community with your fellow students and instructors.
You will likely write an introduction at the beginning of a class, so tell your classmates and instructor about yourself. Read the other student’s introductions and identify those common interests. Reach out to the other students and ask questions. Depending on your major, you will see the same students in other classes, so get to know them. Connect too with your instructors. Get to know them. You will likely have instructors in more than one class, so reach out and say hi. Most professors enjoy interacting with students and learning more about them; it brings the classroom to life.
These connections will also help you later. When you need letters of recommendation or references for example, professors are better able to provide them for you the more they know you. Instructors are great resources, so when the unexpected happens (think sick child in the ER for six hours during the time you had set aside to do your work) and you need extra time to complete an assignment, it will be easier to ask for an extension. You made that valuable connection, so the professor knows the type of student you are and will be more likely to give you extra time to complete the work.
Finally, have fun.
Taking classes and pursuing a degree is hard work, but it is also fun and rewarding. You will quickly find that you enjoy the college atmosphere and that many students are just like you. Each class you complete will feel like a huge accomplishment, and you will very quickly see your list of classes needed to graduate dwindling.
Military spouses are especially equipped to deal with the challenges of online education. The first step is just getting started, and then tackling your classes like every other challenge, using the natural skills of planning, organization, and connection.
Kerry L. Erisman is a military spouse, Dad of two awesome teenage boys, Army retiree after 28 years of active duty service, attorney, and Associate Professor with American Military University. He writes and teaches on important military spouse issues including leadership, critical thinking, and education. The Erismans are currently stationed at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.