I remember the excitement of walking the aisles of notebooks, pencils, pens, crayons, and calculators every September, school-supply list in hand. Preparing for the new school year by stocking up on fresh supplies was practical (last year’s notebooks were full and barely clinging to their wire spiral binding), a bit philosophical (every new Trapper Keeper represented a fresh start), and, at times, preposterous (two words: Lisa Frank; if you’re unfamiliar with her designs, imagine folders, erasers, lunchboxes, etc. plastered with Skittles-colored unicorns, dolphins, kittens, and puppies bounding over rainbows and riding shooting stars — as a middle schooler, I had to own it all).
Flash forward 13 years since I took my last college class. This fall, I’m beginning to work toward my master’s degree, and a lot has changed in higher education since that time. For starters, I will be earning my graduate degree 100 percent online.
Two weeks into my learning, here are the must-have school supplies that I’ve discovered every online student needs, backed up by advice from industry experts in the field of online education.
1. A good computer with reliable access to the Internet.
It might go without saying, but if your computer doesn’t hold a charge or takes forever to load a page, you will need to upgrade before starting class. At the bare minimum, your computer should meet the technical requirements set by your online program. (You can view the Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education recommendations here.) If you’re a first-time online learner like me, you may be anxious enough about how to navigate your class — why add technical difficulties to the mix?
- Ask if your school has any deals worked out with retailers. Even if they don’t, it doesn’t hurt to ask about student discounts wherever you shop.
- Keep in mind that you don’t have to necessarily buy the latest and greatest computer; a refurbished but newer model will likely suffice.
- Finally, yes, a computer does cost more than a package of number 2 pencils, but you could potentially write off the expense come tax time as an educational tax credit, especially if you’re learning online and need it to complete your work. Ask a tax professional for more details.
Don’t be surprised if you need a physical book for your online class. Even if your book is available in a digital version, ask yourself which way you’re more inclined to learn. For me, I want to hold the book, and I get giddy at the prospect of highlighting and penning marginalia. (I know I’m not the only one!) But don’t take my word for it: Faculty say that having your textbook in time for the first day of class is a key indicator of success.
Unlike students who attend traditional campuses, chances are that, as an online student, you are not within walking or driving distance to your university bookstore. As such, do not wait until class begins to buy your book to allow time for shipping. You will get behind and spend the rest of the term trying to catch up.
Speaking of ordering and shipping books, again ask for college rates. Major retailers like Amazon allow you to sign up for a Prime Student account — a discounted version of their Prime service — with your university email address.
3. A way to block out study time.
Think of it as your velvet rope between the rest of your life and your online studies. Maybe it’s something you purchase, like an app (here are seven apps we suggest to keep you on track), a kitchen timer, or a planner. Or it could be something intangible, like a block of time on your Google calendar. Either way, it’s non-negotiable that you plan your study time and stick to it. If you’re like many online students, you are already juggling a full-time career and perhaps a family. Any “free time” you had will now need to be sliced and diced to include your coursework.
Here’s how one JWU Online student fits online learning into her busy life.
For me, I’ve chosen to swap my morning ritual of reading The New Yorker at breakfast with a case study or chapter from my book. Plan on dedicating eight to ten hours a week to each course.
4. Basic (and perhaps even advanced) software.
At the very least, you’re going to need a word-processing application, but, based on your program you may need specific software geared toward your field of study. Again, your institution may provide software at reduced rates or even at no cost — Johnson & Wales University students can install Microsoft Office 365 for free on up to five compatible PCs and Macs, plus five tablets, a potential savings of $400 or more.
So far, I’ve chosen to type and save my discussion board posts on Google docs. That way I can access them and work on them from any computer at any time via my Google account.
5. Whatever it is that makes you focus and feel successful.
So this one is personal. For me, I knew I had to have a Five Star notebook (sorry, Lisa Frank). You might want a small mascot of your university to place on your desk — or, heck, even a new desk/study space altogether. As an online learner, your special something could even be new pajamas or a glass of wine. There’s going to be times that you don’t want to study and even may think of giving up. A small token of motivation might be just what you need to keep going and stay the course.
Bonus item: It occurred to me as I was finishing up this list that there’s one very important item that you won’t find in a store, and that’s support. My husband called me at work on my first day of class just to say that he noticed me studying that morning and he was proud of me for beginning to work toward my master’s degree. (He’s actually finishing up his MBA in the spring, so he can relate.) Tell your friends and family about your journey — they will be your biggest cheerleaders along the way. Even your coworkers will be a great source of motivation as you advance your professional knowledge.
Good luck as you embark on your classes, fresh supplies in hand. Now you’re ready for the journey, so walk confidently in the direction of your goals and don’t look back!
Learn about earning your undergraduate degree or graduate degree online from Johnson & Wales University College of Online Education. For more information, complete the Request Info form on this page, call 855-JWU-1881 or email [email protected]