Student success hints from both sides of the screen

Elizabeth Benz, Director of Student Support at UNE OnlineAs an online education professional, I have researched, studied, and implemented best practices for online student success for thousands of students. Recently, I was interviewed for a blog post titled, “Confessions of a student support specialist – the top 3 issues that online students face,” where I outlined how time management, isolation, and hustle can make or break the online graduate school experience.

However, these make or break issues became personal the day I started my own online graduate program. Let me share my personal experience so you, the UNE Online applicant/student, can see these issues in a real and relatable context.

Hint One

Time management is the number one issue for online graduate students. Sometimes I feel like a broken record, but time management is the bottom line for student success. Before starting my own online graduate program, I knew I would be spending many hours on reading, research, and writing. However, even I was shocked by how much time online graduate school required.

One of the greatest skills I have learned since starting my program is saying ‘no’. I have turned down travel opportunities, social gatherings, and even personal pursuits (like community band). Ultimately, when I must make a decision, I ask myself, “What’s my goal?”

Answer: My degree. My career depends on it. It is tough to say no – sometimes it even hurts. However, it feels fabulous to finish a course, and each completed course is a leap towards the final goal! Write a time management plan specific to each course. Identify peak periods, and know before you get there how you are going to use your time. Evaluate your plan, and change it if it isn’t working.

  • Hint: Each course demands a different amount of dedicated time, and your experience with the content will be a contributing factor. Once you have your time management plan written out, share it with your household or closest friend so they can help you stick with it.

Hint Two

Isolation is a serious pain point for online graduate students. I have had many lonely evenings and weekends working on my studies. While my family knows and fully supports my academic journey, they are not in the course with me. They are not holding their breath, wondering if they earned a passing grade or staying up with me until midnight – or later. While they sympathize, they simply cannot empathize.

Networking with your academic peers is critical because they are in your shoes; they get it. Your peers are a support system embedded in your program. You just have to find and connect with them along the way.

One night I found a mistake in my research. In tears, I was tired, stressed, and running out of time. Sound familiar? Fortunately, I had networked with classmates along the way. I hopped onto Facebook messenger and instantly identified a friend from school who was also awake. Within 15 minutes, I shifted from tears to resolution. With my peer’s support, I was back on track – at midnight! This is the power of peer-to-peer networking in online graduate school.

  • Hint: Make it a personal goal to connect and network with at least two peers in every course. Some courses include group work, and this is the easiest place to get to know an online classmate. As you work on group projects, use a free online video chat service like Google Hangouts. This creates a much richer experience than email correspondence.

Hint Three

The graduate school hustle was the third confession I shared. As I said in that recent interview, “In graduate school, YOU are the one pursuing your education. The onus is on you, the student, to take charge of your learning.”

When the first course of my online graduate program began, I was instructed to write a paper on a theory related to “my thesis topic”. At that time, I had no idea what I wanted my thesis to explore. I was terrified (yes, terrified) that I was about to be locked into a thesis subject. Feeling trapped, I even contemplated withdrawing to seek a more “flexible” program.

However, I contacted my instructor and asked for help. Through our conversation, I learned the assignment topic was not trap; it was merely a suggestion. We discussed theory, workplace applications, research, and more. That conversation is now in my top three learning experiences in higher education and it has shaped my entire graduate school experience. Had I not reached out for help, I would still be floundering and I would have missed key insights paving the way for my research. Your academic program has exactly what you need – you just have to find it.

  • Hint: Asking for help is hard! While it sounds easy, asking for help opens a vulnerability. It helps to remember that instructors were once graduate students, too. They have been in your position. Take your graduate learning to the next level by participating in virtual office hours or by reaching out for a one-on-one with your instructor.

Impact Beyond School

In conclusion, what I expected least was the extent of how these three things would influence my personal and professional life.

The time management lessons direct my work. I accomplish more despite my ever-increasing workload. My peer network is useful beyond the classroom. I text, call, email, and instant message them and get perspectives and advice on workplace and professional issues. The hustle I learned in graduate school permeates everything I do. If I want it, I go after it. Ultimately, I learned I am capable of more than I ever imagined.

Current UNE Online graduate students will probably relate to my experience. Use these lessons started if you are considering applying to UNE Online. If, as a student, you ever feel lost to these or any other reasons, you’ll have a student support specialist to help you get back on track.

I have always believed in adult and online learners, and that is why I chose this profession. In short, being on your side of the screen makes me an even bigger believer in online graduate education. Online students are masters of time management. We are networking whizzes. We chase our education with passion.

We are in this together! I look forward to seeing you on the other side of graduation!

Elizabeth Benz, Director of Student Support, is currently in an online master’s degree program for communication (a discipline not offered at UNE). Elizabeth often uses Maine’s great outdoor spaces as her online classroom.

If you are interested in pursuing an online graduate degree or if you’re simply interested in discussing your options, please reach out to an Enrollment Counselor at (855) 325-0896 or via email at

Or, fill out an online application today at – we look forward to hearing from you!


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