From part one of this series: ”

My distance degree is not worth “just as much” as a traditional campus degree – it is worth more.  It is worth years of work, life experience, and personal growth.  Let’s go above degree equality, let’s go above and beyond the status-quo.  If you are going to be different, stand out.  Go big or go home! So I encourage you and challenge you to own your degree this year.  Use 2018 as the year you pursue doing more than just getting by, just passing the test, just getting the credit.  How do you do that?  I’m glad you asked!

If you choose to think outside the box, be a little uncommon, and earn your degree through distance learning, you may find yourself having to explain your degree to everyone you meet.  This method will grow you and challenge you.  But it also gives you the option to, not only earn a degree, but to also acquire years of experience and skills that make you invaluable in the workplace.

Here are five practical ways to maximize your college years as a distance student:

1. Get an accountability group

Pursue finding students who are also earning distance degrees and create an accountability group.  You may find them on an online forum, a Facebook group, your online class, or even just local friends. I even met one friend at my testing center when we were both there to take a CLEP.  Having a group that can pray for you, ask you how the tests are going, or just be a sounding board for any questions/rants/comments that you have.  Get a group of people who are studying like you, and build each other up in the Lord.

2. Pursue workplace skills

Put yourself in the position to learn hard and soft skills in the workplace.  Part-time or full-time, internship or job – it really does not matter.  Seek out a position that will allow you to learn from those who are older and more experienced than you.  Pursue learning skills that will set you apart once you graduate – not just for the resume, but for the rest of your life.  And never underestimate the power of a letter of reference from a happy employer.

3. Look for volunteer and service opportunities

As a distance student you may not have the opportunity to get involved in Greek Life, on-campus service projects, or help lead the student body.  But don’t let that stop you.  Change your perspective and look for opportunities around your city and your community.  Schools, special need centers, National Parks, your church, mission trips – the opportunities are endless for you to volunteer and be involved in the life of your local community.  And service projects or volunteer work is often the work that has the greatest amazing impact on our life.

4. Keep your reading list

So many people I talk to say, “oh, I haven’t read since I started college.”  I hear this and I inwardly cringe. Prioritize reading – even if you only read one or two books a semester.  It may seem like a little thing, but reading is actually a vanishing skill in today’s world. Reading challenges your brain, helps you practice your concentration, and grows you as a person.  Read interesting books – fiction and nonfiction – and keep a record of what you read.  Also, choose your reading material thoughtfully. In the process of applying to graduate school and applying for scholarships, I have been able to share with the deans and faculty that I have read The Count of Monte Cristo and Les Miserables while finishing my degree.  In other words, I have surrounded myself with good literature – instead of burying myself of modern textbooks.

5. Pursue relationships with your professors

With a few exceptions, most distance students will not have the opportunity to meet their professors face to face.  But don’t let that stop you from purposefully pursuing a relationship with them.  Do not limit yourself to public posts on the forum, get their personal email and send them your questions and comments.  If you have any questions, ask them – do not guess at the answer.  Demonstrate to your professors that you are not just there to pass a class, show them that you actually want to learn all that they can give you.  College faculty are faculty because they are passionate about their area of expertise and sharing it with students.  Take advantage of that fact and ask them for more than just what they list on the syllabus.  Once again, never underestimate the power of a letter of recommendation from a professor.

This is just the tip of the iceberg.  What ideas do you have for making your degree worth more than just four years of coursework?

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