Wednesday, June 17, 2009

College reflections

Finally, years after opening that first study guide, I completed my college degree. Prolonged several times due to lengthy breaks, after Rosalind was born, I nearly decided not to finish. But with only five credit hours left, Joshua finally encouraged me just to get it done.

Though my original plan for obtaining a degree (teaching in China) has been pushed into the distant future, and at this point you do not need a college degree in order to home school, I am glad to have pursued it.

Having gone a less traveled route to earn the credit, I have been delighted to see just how many unique ways there are to learn a subject and obtain credit for it. Most majors (medical and hands-on science courses accepted, of course) really can be pursued away from a brick-and-mortar setting without jeopardizing the quality of the education- if you are willing to study diligently.

Both Joshua and I obtained our degrees through Excelsior College, one of the leading "distance learning" colleges. Distance learning operates under the assumption that what you know is more important that where you learned it and so makes use of a wide variety of standardized testing, portfolio assessments and online courses.

While non-traditional schooling certainly isn't for everyone, if your undergraduate degree is in the arts or is simply a stepping stone to graduate/law school (like it was for Joshua), I would highly recommend looking into it. Even for those who decide to go to a regular college, most schools allow you to test out of at least some of the gen. ed. classes.

There are many advantages to studying at home and then testing for a subject:

Cost- While many college graduates spend upwards of $20,000 for tuition, books and fees, the cost of getting a degree through a distance learning easily falls below $5,000. Add in the fact that much of the studying can be done while maintaining a full-time job (like Joshua did), and the savings are even more significant. Especially with our current unstable economy, the advantage in being able to graduate free from debt are very attractive.

Flexibility- Not only can you choose your own hours of study and testing, many of the lectures I used were audio only, allowing me to learn the history of Soviet Russia or medieval European literature while folding laundry and driving to the grocery store.

Time- Many self-disciplined students, by diligent study, have been able to obtain a bachelor's degree in two years or even one. While I was certainly not one of those students, per credit hour, I spent considerably less time mastering a subject when studying on my own than in a classroom setting.

Despite the benefits of distance learning, there are several major drawbacks when stepping outside of a brick-and-mortar colleges.

Motivation- "What if I'm not self-motivated?" many people have asked me. This is a problem, but in many cases, I think it isn't so much the lack of motivation that makes self-paced study difficult, but the lack of a good plan and tangible goal. This is certainly what kept me from getting my degree sooner. An option that several friends have utilized and enjoyed is College Plus. They offer Christian coaching to direct students in their distance learning endeavors

Online courses-
A teacher makes the class a delight or horror, and this is especially true of online classes. Though all of my online teachers have been excellent, my brother took an English class in which the teacher didn't responds to questions and only graded one (out of half a dozen) assignment before finals were due, providing negligible feedback in a class that requires interaction between teacher and student. Apparently a few teachers think that online teaching means "not teaching".

Despite these drawbacks, I highly recommend distance learning.

For more specifics on means we utilized, see these posts:

College: the non-traditional way
College: the non-traditional way 2

Linking to Frugal Fridays over at Life as Mom

photo by Mary Gober


Josh C. said...

Congratulations again, honey! I'm so proud of you.

Johanna said...

Congratulations, Anna! I'm so happy for you . . . :-)

My journey just begins - this fall. :-/