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So, you’re thinking about going back to school?


It’s been awhile since I perched here to chirp, but now that school is done and I’m finding myself with some free time, I’m sure I’ll be fluttering by these parts more frequently.

Speaking of school, I’ve heard of a few folks I know talking about returning to the academic world. I thought I’d write a bit about my experiences with returning to school. A bit of background could probably set the stage here.

Immediately after high school I entered college and pursued an Advertising and Public Relations degree. My thoughts, at the time, were that I wanted to make lots of money and I figured that something creative in the business world would allow me to fulfill my desire to make money, while pursuing something that didn’t bore me to death. I’m sure it was amusing for my then classmates to see me enter those business classes all decked out in my goth gear (yes, I was one of those). To make a long (and rather tumultuous) story short – I quickly realized that I wasn’t meant for the business world and left that two year program (after two years) by flunking out in my last semester (aside from the A I pulled off in Video Broadcasting – apparently I had a knack for film… go figure). So, there I was with two years of post-secondary education and absolutely nothing to show for it. It was what I dubbed, my “almost” diploma – sans four credits.

After several months of floating from retail job to retail job, I eventually landed in Toronto where an event registration company hired me. I quickly became immersed in the event marketing world and there I remained for almost 15 years. I spent numerous years working as a freelance event marketer and when the jobs started drying up, I started to think about going back to school. My biggest reason was because I honestly wasn’t happy “working for the man”. I felt stifled, bored and like I wasn’t doing something that was meaningful to me.

I started researching going back to school and I can say without a doubt that it was one of the most daunting experiences. It’s a lot of information to wade through and finding the answer to a simple question can be a frustrating endeavour. I eventually learned that it was much easier to find one or two key contacts in administration and just email them directly, instead of trying to decipher institutional lingo in pages and pages of documentation.

It was a long process, but after filling in all the application documents, contacting every school I had ever attended for transcripts and writing an essay about why I hadn’t successfully completed my Advertising & Public Relations program, I submitted my application and then waited.

The rest is history, as they say. I’ve been studying part-time, primarily through distance education (DE) for about seven years now. I completed my three year general psychology BA in 2010. I studied year round, one to four courses a semester, and managed to finish in a respectable amount of time.

So, how does DE work? First, most of your courses are available online, where you watch lectures, submit assignments, interact with other students, and take tests. Midterms and final exams are usually done at a school in your hometown on a given date or through a proctor you hire to supervise your examination.

It’s not a mode of learning for everyone. You have to have a lot of discipline to make yourself stick to a routine of studying and completing assignments. It’s pretty easy to get sidetracked. There’s also a huge social component that is missing. You don’t get the face-to-face interaction with professors and other students. Instead this is supplanted with online communication that can sometimes be hard to interpret. Group work is also a bit awkward because you essentially are working with other students who are on their own study schedules as well. So you are often waiting for days for a reply to a question that could be answered in 30 seconds in face-to-face meetings. Finally, the breadth of courses just isn’t the same for DE. You just don’t have the same variety. So, while registering you may see this really cool course that you want to take – but you won’t be able too because it isn’t offered via DE.

There are a number of benefits to DE. You get to study on your own schedule. So that means you can fit studying around work, family, and your social life – you just have to fit it in some time. For me, I’m a morning person so I spent every morning studying and then I had the afternoons to catch up on other things. I’ve known other students who are night owls and they study after putting their kids to bed. You also have the advantage of being able to pause, rewind, and re-watch lectures. When I first started I had no idea how to take notes during a lecture, and I often found myself pausing the lectures to frantically write down every word the lecturer spoke. Finally, you can study from just about anywhere. I can remember taking my school on the road numerous times. As long as I had an Internet connection I could get my studies done.

Oh, and for those of you wondering, a degree/diploma through DE is no different than one obtained from on-campus studies. In some ways, it’s more difficult to complete a program via DE because you are responsible for structuring your class time and study time. It’s an added component that many students don’t have to deal with when studying on campus, but it certainly allows you more control over your academic career.

I am a big advocate of continuing education. I also believe that it’s never too late. Here I am, a thirty-something chick who is still in school and I’m not sure when I’ll be done. I returned last fall to pursue a combined honours in psychology and religion and the plan is that I’ll make my way into a Masters program in religion. I still study online, but I also have to go on campus now because most schools have residency requirements for upper-level degrees. So, I’m combining the two, until they won’t let me any longer.

If you’re thinking about going back to school, I say go for it! It’s an amazing experience! It opens new worlds and changes the way your perceive the world around you. Happy Studying! Cheers! M. xo

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