Thirteen years ago I received an Associates of Arts degree from Brevard Community College. I always wanted to go further with my education, as I didn’t feel completely satisfied with the AA. But like many of you, I am not as able-bodied as some college students, so I neglected furthering my education.
Several months ago my girlfriend was telling me about this online school, Kaplan, where she takes college courses. I wondered about financing, and she told me she got a student loan and what she called “free money” from FAFSA – “Free Application for Federal Student Aid” (www.fafsa.ed.gov). I was hesitant about going into debt, but I figured I could talk to some school counselors and decide.
Next thing I knew I was looking around at schools online, trying to find a school that offered the degree I was interested in – journalism. I wanted a real degree, not from some fly-by-night dot-com. I finally settled on UMUC, the University of Maryland University College (www.umuc.edu). They have a communications major that covers journalism, marketing and technical writing. UMUC had a chat coming up, where I could meet counselors, ask questions and talk about how financing worked. The UMUC counselors proved to be helpful, and although they used some terms I didn’t understand at the time, I eventually figured out what they were talking about. Armed with the information about my new college, I was able to apply for a FAFSA grant and subsidized student loans.
In the end I figured out that the grants I qualified for would pay about half my education, so my student loans weren’t going to come to quite as much as I thought. In addition since I already had an AA, that was two years of classes, I wouldn’t need to take. There was some faxing of documents and I had to take a test on my understanding of student loans (the Government is serious about being paid back) but I easily qualified for both grants and loans.
Having qualified for entering UMUC and receiving FAFSA funding, I was overcome with a sudden giddiness. Could I be going back to school? After all these years? Here I was, a disabled person who pretty much stays home a lot – and I’d be going back to school! This was suddenly exciting! Very exciting indeed! Even Peggy was excited, and called me her “College stud!”
I missed getting in on the first spring semester, but UMUC offers two semesters for every given term. I got in on Spring II semester, scheduled to begin at the end of March. I signed up for three courses – a required Library class, an English class, and a Communications class. The course materials for the Library class were online, so I only had to order books for ENGL and COMM. I just about died when I saw the bill for six books for two classes (two of which I barely cracked open in the entire semester). Luckily, the school offered a “book voucher” which would be deducted directly from my FAFSA financing when it came through. I started to wonder how much my school loans would really come to in the end.
How did classes go? Well, mixed, really. UMUC does their classes entirely with forums where you post, online commercial or academic databases, assignments you write offline and upload to a private area, and textbook reading assignments. Teachers are generally available by email or forum posts. There were no chats. Although I gather it could be assigned, we seldom used multimedia (in COMM we had to write a movie review once, and one of my textbook came with a CD we were never assigned). Classes were designed so you could do your work at least once or twice a week.
Apparently a lot of UMUC students are military and have unusual schedules. As you may have surmised from this description, the classes are just reading and writing. Although the final for LIBS was online, the finals for COMM and ENGL are “proctored” and I am taking them at the nearby Brevard Community College in early July.
I had thought Communications and Library Sciences would be easy. LIBS was kind of ok, and that course at least ended its semester before the others did. Still, it wasn’t as easy as I expected. It involved a lot of research and learning to use the online databases provided by the school library. Communications turned out to be a hard class. The concepts aren’t all that hard, but the teacher was very strict on the papers we turn in, and she didn’t give much input when I emailed her questions. I don’t yet know what the final will be like, but I expect a C or B in COMM. English is the class I thought would be hardest, mostly because I’ve never met an easy English teacher in my entire life. It turns out this teacher has a tendency to give you a pretty good grade no matter what you write, as long as you’ve written it well. She apparently liked what I wrote, so I anticipate getting a high B or A in that class.
Because the Summer I semester overlapped Spring II and Summer II overlaps with fall, I am taking the summer off and waiting for the Fall I semester. I won’t have to take LIBS again, so next semester I am thinking about another Communications class and perhaps one of the Journalism courses. Hopefully I won’t get the same COMM teacher.
There are, in fact, many schools out there that offer online courses. Some schools offer complete degrees such as UMUC, others offer a limited subset of their courses. If you’re considering going back to school and remote education interests you, carefully research schools and what the classes involve. Make sure you get one that is accredited in the field you want to study; you’ll go much further with an actual degree.
As for financing, my school loans are held until six months after I graduate. Six months to find a job in my field. Only then do I have to start paying them back. I look at it this way – which is more valuable to me – an education that lasts forever, or a car that lasts a few years? My loans will come to about that much in the end, I figure; the cost of a new car. And most certainly my diploma will take a lot less gas.
David Good has the seizure disorder Epilepsy and Osteogenesis Imperfecta, a disease that makes his bones brittle. He lives in Melbourne, Florida and credits his parents for teaching him the importance of education in life. He has his own web site, dreamnetstudios.com where he keeps further useful information about himself, his family, and his beloved Peggy.