By Erika Heeren - January 14th, 2016
While many online schools are providing more student life options – such as honor societies – it can be challenging to reap the full benefits of a traditional college experience in a virtual setting.
Why is this important? College life (outside of the classroom) provides personal enrichment, professional development, and helps you make contacts that will help you in your post-graduation life. Fortunately, there are many ways that you can take control of your academic experience and leverage your unique circumstance to create your own version of student life.
Here are a few avenues to consider:
Interaction – Making Your Office A Classroom
As I said in Part 1 of this series, if you’re already working in your desired field, you’ve got an extra advantage. Don’t be afraid to tell your boss that you’re pursuing your degree, what you’ve been learning, and how you would like to grow professionally. Take the initiative and find opportunities within your company to apply what you’ve been learning in the classroom.
Whether or not you are currently in your field of choice, take the time to get to know your colleagues. Are there other employees who are pursuing their degree? Even if they are just taking professional development courses, consider creating a support group (outside of work hours). These are your fellow students, even if they’re not pursuing the same degree. You can help to hold each other accountable, offer perspective on each other’s assignments, and you may learn something new in the process!
Service-Base Organizations – Volunteering
If you’ve been following this series, you may notice a trend here.
In a traditional brick-and-mortar college setting, there are usually several service organizations for students to choose from. You don’t need a ground campus to help in your community! One fantastic feature of volunteering is that it doesn’t have to be in your chosen career field, just an area that you find interesting.
Volunteering is a great way to find friends, mentors, and build a like-minded community; just like a traditional campus environment!
Here are some ideas to help you find service organizations in your community:
- Your Local Chamber of Commerce
- A Local Young Professionals Group
- Food/Clothing Banks
- Homeless Shelters
- Tutoring at a Local Elementary/High School
- Elder Care Services
- Cause-based Events (Race for a Cure, etc.)
Get Out of Your Comfort Zone – Networking
Networking is fantastic way to build connections in your local market. If done correctly, networking can give you an advantage in finding a new job, getting a promotion, starting a business, or finding a mentor. Maybe you’ll even find a connection in a great volunteering opportunity! (That’s the last time I’ll mention it, I promise!)
You can find networking opportunities through your local Chamber of Commerce, Young Professionals group, and similar organizations. Toastmasters is another great organization that can be found in many areas: they’ll help you work on your public speaking and networking skills – while networking! Hooray for efficiency!
There are a multitude of articles, books, and podcasts on how to network. It’s definitely worth the time to do a little research and perfect your networking practice; that skill will serve you well in your professional life!
Making it Your Own
So, what’s the formula for success? Make the grades, identify your opportunities, find your mentors, and build your community.
Don’t be afraid to get out there and try something new! If you have a great idea to complement your coursework, go for it!
Here’s to going above just making it to graduation – let’s make the most of our online academic experience!
Erika Heeren is a CSU-Global alum, and the founder of boutique digital marketing agency Heeren Content & Strategy. She graduated in 2017 as a Distinguished Scholar with a bachelor of science in communications, specializing in small business and public administration. A military spouse herself, Erika actively advocates for veteran and spouse education, employment, and entrepreneurship. She also volunteers as a small business mentor with Treasure Valley SCORE.
Heeren is an award-winning writer and has been featured on Social Media Week, Wright Stuff Radio, Veteran on the Move, and NextGen Military Spouse. She lives Boise, Idaho with her husband and son. In her free time, she enjoys traveling, explorations in culinary creativity, and spending time with family.