Balancing active duty and pursuing an online degree

(BPT) – As an active member in the U.S. Air Force, Diana Kramer has been deployed five times – twice to Iraq and Afghanistan. In fact, in the past year, she has traveled to Laos, Vietnam, Thailand, Guam and Kuwait, just to name a few. And while she has been traveling the world, it doesn’t mean she can’t pursue a degree at the same time.

Kramer, who is stationed at Eielson Air Force Base near the town of North Pole, Alaska, was recently named a 2014 Tillman Military Scholar by the Pat Tillman Foundation. Her career goal is to help counsel fellow veterans coping with the symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was her positive encounter with counseling through the Air Force that inspired her to pursue an academic degree in psychology, but realized that the traditional college route wasn’t realistic with her unpredictable travel schedule. Instead, she decided to pursue a degree in psychology through Arizona State University Online, which is a leading school in the country for online veteran degree programs.

Going in, Kramer was concerned about balancing classes with the requirements of her military duties but she quickly learned that with the flexibility and support provided through ASU Online, she could be a student and have a successful military career. It was also important to her to find a program that understood the specific needs of a military student and could offer guidance as she earned her degree. As a second-year student, she had the opportunity to establish best practices on how to best approach balancing active duty and an online degree:

* Take advantage of military-specific resources. Fortunately, the Pat Tillman Veterans Center through Arizona State University offers dedicated military advisors to help with anything from GI Bill benefits, course selection, tutoring services, to general guidance. Kramer highly recommends finding an online program with advisors and coaches who can offer a military perspective and recognize the unique nature of the military lifestyle. These are important resources to take advantage of in order to seek time management advice and stay on track with your courses.

* Frequently communicate with your online professors. It’s always important to regularly communicate with your professors and inform them of potential issues and obstacles at the start of a term. If you expect to be deployed in combat areas, let your instructors know that Internet access may be unreliable with possible communication blackouts. As expected, there will be obstacles that you can’t predict but Kramer found that if you keep the line of communication open with your professors, they’ll be more understanding of the situation and extend the deadline under extenuating circumstances.

* Plan ahead and learn the course technology. When Kramer first enrolled with ASU Online, one of her biggest challenges was taking care of time-sensitive assignments. Finding a decent Internet connection can be a struggle while on the road so she learned to plan ahead and complete time-sensitive assignments in advance if she knew she was going to be traveling. Kramer also recommends getting comfortable with the course technology prior to a major exam or assignment. Whether the course is delivered by Internet, video, audio or print, test all class components before the term starts to ensure the technology isn’t going to be a roadblock. It’s also important to know where to get technical support prior to any online assignments or exams so you have a direct contact in case any technical difficulties arise on the road.

* Devote time to study. Effective time management can make the difference between success and failure when juggling education, active duty and a family. Many assume that distance learning is easier than a traditional college education, but online programs require the same time commitment as on-campus programs. Kramer typically dedicates two to three hours weekly per credit for studying and online assignments. It’s also important to understand the time commitment of each class you enroll in each term so you are able to realistically meet the study time requirements.

Online education is often a natural fit for active military students. These students already possess the self-discipline and motivation which are two key components to succeeding at online education, but it’s also important to take advantage of the guidance and support from military advisors, professors, family and peers along the way.

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