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How to Succeed at Online University Courses

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Tips on how to choose and successfully complete online university courses, from choosing the right degree and university, to engaging with classmates and studying professionally.
Tips on how to choose and successfully complete online university courses, from choosing the right degree and university, to engaging with classmates and studying professionally.

If you are interested in studying at university online, here are some tips on how to succeed. They form a guide for distance learning newbies on how to choose and complete online university courses.

1. Identify the Qualifications to Achieve Your Career Goals

This goes for all university courses whether they are online or not. Make sure any program you are considering actually helps achieve the kind of career you desire.

You may be surprised at the number of university students who enter a study area without thinking through the career benefits. That can lead to risks and mistakes.

For example, studying psychology or nutrition may be fun and interesting. However, to qualify to be a clinical practitioner in these fields, you need to do intensive postgraduate science-based studies. A simple Bachelor of Arts with a major in either of these fields probably won't land you the kind of job you want.

There are other lines of work that are hard to crack even with a relevant degree. To illustrate:
(i) only a small percentage of law graduates become lawyers
(ii) few graduates of fine arts degree make a decent living as artists and
(iii) a Bachelor of Science degree probably won't get you a job in science research unless you go on to do a doctorate.

Do your research before you choose a course. To illustrate, if you want to work in information technology, read an IT careers guide. Search job sites for "software developer" or whichever specialty your are interested in and see what sort of qualifications are required. Also, check online forums to see what people are saying about job prospects for IT graduates.

2. Consider Postgraduate Study

Unless you recently finished secondary education, you should be looking to do postgraduate study rather than completing an undergraduate (bachelor) degree. Postgraduate courses are shorter and are intended for mature-age students.

You don't necessarily need a bachelor degree to be admitted to postgraduate programs. Graduate certificate courses sometimes allow you to be admitted based on professional experience. If you complete the 4-unit graduate certificate with good grades, you can continue on to do a graduate diploma (8 units) or masters degree (12 units usually).

Postgraduate study can be used to extend your experience or knowledge, or to shift into a different career stream altogether. For example, you can earn a Master of Teaching degree to qualify to be a classroom teacher. A Master of Business Administration is a management / leadership qualification potentially available to anyone, including people without a "business studies" background.

Get to Know Your Classmates

When you do a degree or other university course online, you will almost certainly have online classmates doing the same subjects at the same time. Instructors typically teach a group of students together as a cohort. Each week, all students receive the same tutorials, exercises, quizzes and alike.

Getting to know your classmates through online forums, emails, social media, etc is generally a good idea. You can gain a sense of belonging to a group and can share notes and experiences. It will improve your motivation and can help you be a better student all-round.

3. Explore Different Australian Universities

Most online courses are available from several or more universities across Australia. You don't have to limit choice to universities in your state or whichever universities are being promoted by Open Universities Australia.

By visiting, you can see the best few programs available in each field of study. The top programs are chosen based on qualities such as flexibility, course content, student support and value for money.

4. Study Part-Time or Full-Time

Online courses are suitable for part-time study if you wish. In fact, most online university students in Australia study part-time. They usually combine study with full-time work. You'll even find programs that are exclusively part-time, only allowing one or two subjects to be taken in each study period.

If you study part time, you can still finish most online courses in reasonable time. That's because the option to study year-round, including over the summer months, is often available.

5. Treat Online Study as a Job

Studying online is probably more challenging than you think. You need to motivate yourself right through the course. This could include times when you are alone at your computer with a hundred other things you would rather be doing.

One of the top tips from online university and college students is to treat study like a job. That means doing things like creating a schedule and blocking out times when the only thing you do is study. It's also important to let people know that you are serious about your studies.

If you study from home, make sure you can do so uninterrupted. If you were sitting in an office at work, friends or family members wouldn't waltz by and break your chain of thought. The same should apply when you are studying online from home. That way, you can give full attention to learning and earning a university qualification.

Andrew Lancaster is the founder and director of

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