Secrets for Success

Secrets for Success (Chapter 10)

There are a number of ways to make your online masters degree education a success. Below you will find a list of tips to help improve your experience. See which tips work best for you and incorporate them into your study routine.

Study Tips:

  • Ask for Help: As a graduate student, you hold more responsibility for your educational experience than you did as an undergraduate student. However, this does not mean that you have to go it alone. Part of your responsibility as a masters degree candidate is to ask for help when you need it. Universities and individual departments can provide help and advice on all manner of things. You just have to ask.
  • Learning Style: Discover what kind of learner you are and develop your study strategies accordingly. A list of some different styles of learning can be found below. It can give you an idea of where to start.
    1. Visual learners: A visual learner is someone who learns through seeing. They usually need silence to study and to think about lectures before understanding them. They study well with the help of visual aids such as outlines, flash cards and color-coded words.
    2. Auditory learners: An auditory learner is someone who learns by hearing. They tend to read slowly, follow spoken directions well and can easily explain ideas and concepts.
    3. Kinesthetic learners: A kinesthetic learner is someone who learns by doing. They often have trouble sitting still for long periods of time, enjoy sports and can study while listening to music.

    You can be any or all of these types of learners. Think about what kinds of courses you did your best in during high school and college, and this may help you to figure out what kind of learner you are.

  • Engage and Participate: Engage with your classmates and professors and participate in as many aspects of your online learning experience as you can. This can reduce the feeling that you are isolated and overwhelmed. Log in to your courses often and take the time to read the comments made by your classmates and professors. When you fully participate in discussions and group projects, you will benefit from the perspectives and experiences of those around you and vice versa.
  • Taking Notes: Be careful when you are taking notes from lectures and readings. Determine that what you are writing down is relevant, credible and important. This will help cut down on the amount of notes you take and force you to focus on understanding what you are hearing and reading. Use key words, pictures and diagrams. Make flashcards, either by hand or an online service such as Flash Card Exchange to help you review.
  • Reading: Before you begin, preview the entire assignment, including the number of pages and when you need to have the reading done by. Determine what your professor wants you to get out of the reading. Figure out what you already know about the subject, and skim over the parts that you are already familiar with. Set a time limit for yourself and move your eyes faster to read more quickly. Look for essential words and take notes on the reading.
  • Time Management: Schedule fixed blocks of time to study, but remember to allow for flexibility. This is particularly important for online masters degree programs, since it will be your responsibility to give yourself structure. Good time management is important if your online program has both synchronous and asynchronous components. Avoid long study sessions by setting clear start and stop times. Prioritize your tasks before you schedule them. Be realistic about your expectations and always plan for the unexpected.
  • Stress Management: Graduate school is difficult. Add on the responsibilities of work and relationships, and life can become stressful. Get organized and keep the materials that you need for school together in1easily accessible place. Try to carve out a study nook for yourself where nothing but studying occurs. Make lists including all of the things that you need to do in order to accomplish your goals. Familiarize yourself with the format of your online courses and the software that you will use most often. On your Internet browser, bookmark commonly used school webpages. Staying organized is important in order to keep your stress level low.

Balancing Act: School, Family, and Work:

Balancing school, family, and work can seem like an overwhelming task. But if you make use of your time management and stress management skills you can find a balance in your life. Let those around you know that you are going back to school and ask for help when you need it. If you study at home, set up rules for your family as to when it is okay to interrupt you and when it is not. Get a head start on school assignments when you can. This can make a huge difference at the end of the term or if an unexpected work or personal project comes up. Students usually block time off for work and school, but make sure you do the same to spend time with your family.


No matter your discipline, networking is a key element of graduate school. It can help you in your areas of research, in finding funding opportunities and in landing future jobs. Networking often seems like an awkward way of asking people you do not know for favors. However, networking is really just speaking to people you know or want to know about what you are doing and what your future interests are. Be polite, make eye contact and be yourself. Your professors and classmates are good people to start with since you are all studying within the same field and working together on a regular basis. As you become more comfortable with the practice of networking, you will easily expand your base.

Comprehensive Exams:

Comprehensive exams are written exams, oral exams or a combination of the 2 given to test your knowledge on a broad array of topics within your field of study. Some, but not all, masters degree programs administer comprehensive exams. In some cases, you must pass your comprehensive exams prior to writing your thesis. In other instances, your comprehensive exams are all that stand between you and graduation. Check with your school and department to see if you have comprehensive exams and what they will cover.

Comprehensive exam questions will cover a wide range of topics. In order to prepare for these exams you should look at old exams if they are available, speak with students who have already taken their comprehensive exams, consult with your professors or your advisor as to where you should focus, gather the materials you need and organize your schedule so that you can study.