Update: As of December 2019, Jami Rush is Dr. Jami Rush upon completion of the Doctorate in Educational Leadership program. Congratulations, Dr. Rush!
Online students have a lot on their plates. Many juggle work, family, and social lives on top of school work.
Jami Rush knows the balancing act well. In addition to her role as Director of The University of Louisiana at Lafayette Learning Center, Rush is pursuing her doctorate in Educational Leadership while juggling roles as a wife and mom.
She offered some tips for staying on top of your studies this semester so you still have time for the “everything else.”
Keep a calendar
It’s something students hear over and over because it’s vitally important to not only have a calendar but to make it part of a morning, afternoon, and nightly routine, says Rush.
Being in a hybrid program, Rush says it’s wholly her and her cohorts responsibility to be proactive about research and assignments between face-to-face meetings.
“If I didn’t have my planner, well, I start to feel anxiety just thinking about not having it,” she says. “I’ve made sure every week I have something that I’m doing that’s working towards whatever project or assignment that’s going to be due at the end of the week or whenever we meet in person.”
She encourages students to maintain their regular coursework schedule even if there’s a holiday or other break.
“Don’t use that as an opportunity to completely disengage from your schoolwork, keep your scheduled class days or lecture times in your calendar and follow through with that obligation,” she says.
Doing so will keep you on-task and allow you to see where you can enjoy down-time without falling behind.
“Know it’s OK every once in a while to say, ‘OK, I need to have fun,’” Rush says. “You need to have that balance where you’re not stressed all the time.”
As a working nurse practitioner, Dr. Samantha Lilley says setting a schedule was key for her academic success and maintaining a work-life balance as she completed both her Master of Science in Nursing online and her Doctor of Nursing Practice online at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette.
“I didn’t just hope I had time to spend with my daughter or hope we had time for a date night,” she says. “We planned for park days, we planned for family time. If I wouldn’t have, I don’t know if it would have ever happened.”
Track your progress
It’s important to remember that you are responsible for your education and progress, and it’s incumbent upon you to know how you’re doing in a given course.
Rush recommends keeping track of all the feedback you’re given in order to keep a running tally and prepare for future exams and projects.
“There’s a wonderful sense of relief when you calculate your grades and you see you need to make a 39-F on the final exam and you can still finish with an A,” she says. “On the flip-side, you do your averaging and see, ‘oh, I need to make a 76-C if I want to finish with a B or an A.’”
Knowing where you stand allows you to stay focused and know when you need to reach out for help by connecting with other students or taking advantage of tools like NetTutor to meet your ultimate academic goals.
“There’s no guarantee you’ll be told how you’re doing. It’s on you,” says Rush. “Nobody wants you to fail, but you need to make sure you take control.
“‘How am I doing?’ is an absolutely OK question to ask.”
Give yourself breaks
Using the Pomodoro Method, or something similar, dedicate yourself to a set block of time to work before taking a break to shop for gifts or scroll Instagram.
Rush says she learned about this technique during a lunch-and-learn held by the Grad School (Facebook link) and it’s been a “gamechanger” for getting things done.
It works like this: set a timer for 25 minutes of work, take a 3-5 minute break, and then repeat. After four work sessions, take a 15-30 minute break, which Rush says “feels like Christmas.”
“Anybody can focus on a task for 25 minutes, whether it’s read for 25 minutes or write for 25 minutes or study or create your flashcards – or whatever it is,” she says. “For four rounds of 25 minutes, you’re looking at a little less than two hours, and there’s so much accomplished because you’re not distracted during that 25 minutes going to different things. It’s a wonderful technique.”
Several apps and websites are available to help implement this technique. Some even offer additional settings to block certain websites (think Amazon, Facebook, etc.) during that time or shut down other functions completely to limit distractions.
Build a support system
A semester is 15 weeks not forever, Rush says, and it’s crucial to find people who understand that.
“During this 15-week period, I’m going to probably say no to you because I have something else that cannot wait,” she says.
As an online student, those boundaries are especially important.
“If you were on campus and going to class, would you consistently be asked to skip class to go to work? Would you consistently be asked to skip class to hang out with your partner or to start dinner early?” Rush asks. “What would be the reasonable expectations of you if you were on campus? If you set those expectations early and maintain those expectations, it will become a habit for you and the people in your life so you can easily manage your time.”
She also suggests finding an accountability partner.
“Somebody who shares a common goal, whether it’s passing the same class you’re both in or someone who started with you in the same semester, somebody you can encourage to keep up with their work and somebody to challenge you,” she says. “You work together in that regard.”
If you want to learn more about the resources the University of Louisiana at Lafayette provides to support online students, keep reading with, “Take Advantage of These Resources.” You can also find study tips specifically for online students.