Confessions of a Student Support Specialist

Confessions of a Student Support SpecialistThe Student Support Specialist model at UNE Online is special.

I recently sat down with Elizabeth Benz, Director of Student Support, recently to discuss what she feels are the top three issues that online graduate school students face, and how she and her team of Student Support Specialists help students overcome those issues.

Elizabeth has counseled hundreds of online students through their academic journeys over the years, so she knows a thing or two about what students face when it comes to learning in an online classroom, and balancing work, life, and school.

1. Time management

The number one issue that Elizabeth sees online students face in online graduate school is time management. In graduate school, as in everyday life, you are responsible for your path. And online graduate school poses unique challenges. True, there are hard deadlines twice a week, but there is no in-class time to keep a student accountable to any particular schedule. You alone need to be the person to initiate school work, and actually sit down to complete assignments.

Of course, who would not want to watch tv or walk the dog or practice photography rather than write a paper or read a textbook? The key is to keep your long-term goal in mind. You need to make the decision on a near-daily basis, to make the sacrifice of today’s fun for tomorrow’s payoff. School has to be among your very top priorities, which is difficult to say to someone who is balancing children and a job.

As a graduate student, you should be dedicating about 15 hours a week to your graduate course, being mindful that some courses will take less time if the course content is already familiar and therefore easier for you. For example, if this is your first foray into epidemiology or if you’ve never worked with education legislation, you need to plan for classwork taking up more of your time versus someone who has a background in epidemiology, or who works with education policy already.

2. Isolation

The second biggest pain point in a student’s journey has to do with isolation, and feeling like you are alone in this. To be clear, you are NOT alone. We’re all in this together – your instructor, your Student Support Specialist, and your fellow students.

Some people are natural connectors and have an easier time with this part. If you’re not one of those people, then make it your personal goal to finish each course with two new friends or contacts who have the same goals or something in common with you. Maybe you send them a course message about some research you have in common, or maybe you’re geographically close to someone, or maybe you connect over something personal, like kids. Find some reason to reach out, and continue to use each other as a resource.
Build your network.

It’s very easy to be a victim of our own consciousness – when you’re at home and tired and you put the kids to bed, and you’re looking at a difficult concept, and you’re on the verge of tears, not worthy, not getting it, remember: you are not alone. And that’s why building your network is so critical.

UNE Online has group projects in some of our courses, these are a great opportunity to “meet” someone and connect with your group members. A word of advice? Take your conversations off of email. Use a free video conferencing solution like Skype, Google Hangouts, Facebook Messenger, or GoTo Meeting. Use what works for you, but take this opportunity to have “face time” with your colleagues. It’s very easy to get stuck in the rut of communicating via email, but you’ll get a better product for your grade, and have a better experience if you use more robust technology. Plus, it’s free!

3. The graduate school hustle

There’s a big difference between undergraduate and graduate experiences. Your undergraduate education is not exactly handed to you on a silver platter, but your learning is more or less directed by the instructor. In graduate school, YOU are the one pursuing your education. The onus is on you, the student, to take charge of your learning. Graduate students pursue their learning and engage with the resources that they need – and understanding that nuance can be the key to taking your learning to the next level.

One way to engage is to schedule a meeting with your instructor, or “pop in” during office hours, and have a meaningful, directed conversation about the subject that you are covering in class. Often times, this personal conversation is a great way to see the subject from a different perspective and ends up being a valuable opportunity to deepen your knowledge.

Reach out to your instructor if you are unclear on a point, or if you need guidance on a project or an assignment. That conversation could lead to a pivotal moment in your academic career. Take charge of your learning and see how much further you can go!

The bottom line

Like anything else, you’re going to get out of graduate school what you put into graduate school. It’s up to you to get the most value out of your education.

And if you are feeling lost, or need motivation, or you need tactics on how to do these things better, you can talk to your Student Support Specialist. Helping students succeed is what they do!

Interested in applying to UNE Online? The sooner you apply, the sooner you hear back. Fill out an online application today at!


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