APU Careers & Learning Online Learning Original

Overcoming Academic Challenges When You're an Online Student

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By Dr. Jarrod Sadulski
Faculty Member, Criminal Justice, American Public University

As a working adult, my online education gave me a great opportunity to complete my college education. I took online classes for my undergraduate, my master’s and my doctorate degrees. During all that time, I balanced employment, a family and my school responsibilities.

Like most college students, I experienced some of the academic challenges that can arise while balancing those multiple responsibilities. As a result, I learned several strategies that can help you overcome many of the common challenges while you earn your online college degree.

Inform Your Instructor Right Away if There Is a Problem

Life often includes unexpected events. If your daily routine means balancing personal responsibilities and schoolwork, then it’s likely that some unexpected events will cause you some hardship if they are not properly addressed.

In a traditional brick-and-mortar classroom, a professor assumes that a student is experiencing difficulties or a hardship when that student doesn’t show up for class. However, due to the flexibility that online classes offer, instructors will not know when you have a personal problem unless you inform them of it.

It is important for you to tell your professor as soon as possible when an unexpected problem arises during the course. The instructor may be able to arrange alternate assignment dates and work with you to provide extra support and resolve the issue.

Ask for More Details if You’re Facing Academic Challenges

Communication with your professor is equally important when you struggle with a particular assignment. Students sometimes try to resolve the issue through the coursework alone, but that often only increases their stress and affects their grade.

Seek clarification and guidance from your instructor if the assignment is puzzling you and do so well in advance of when the assignment is due.

Occasionally, you might have trouble with a specific course. For example, you might be struggling with math. When that happens, seek additional support through tutoring, workshops or the APUS Library’s Resources and Services section.

What to Do if Your Instructor Is Not Responsive or Inconsistent in Grading

I had a few challenges during my academic career. There were times when a professor was either not responsive to my questions or was inconsistent in grading my work. When that happens, you should talk directly with your professor or express your concerns to your student advisor.

In fact, you should keep your advisor informed of any challenges you face throughout your education. Advisors may recommend changes that you can make with your courseload and provide guidance that will lead to your academic success.

Earning a college education is a major life goal. When academic challenges arise, it is critical to have a plan to overcome them. Preparation and communication will lead to your success.

About the Author

Dr. Jarrod Sadulski has been with the Coast Guard since 1997. His expertise includes infrastructure security, maritime security, homeland security, contraband interdiction and intelligence gathering. He has also received commendations from the Coast Guard. Currently, Jarrod is a supervisor in the Reserve Program and provides leadership to Reserve members who conduct homeland security, search and rescue, and law enforcement missions.

Susan Hoffman is a Managing Editor at APU Edge, whose articles have appeared in multiple publications. Susan is known for her expertise in blogging, social media, SEO, and content analytics, and she is also a book reviewer for Military History magazine. She has a B.A. cum laude in English from James Madison University and an undergraduate certificate in electronic commerce from American Public University.

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