How to Work Ahead in Online Courses

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Joseph Porchetta, Student & Alumni

Purdue University’s online MS Communication program is very appealing to prospective graduate students because it’s part of the world-class, Brian Lamb School of Communications. The school maintains a strong reputable graduate and doctoral program on campus that attracts top students from around the world. Its leadership and professors are also well-known researchers and instructors in the field. Having the ability to complete this program virtually from anywhere in the world and adding “Purdue” to your educational background is ideal for any busy professional looking to enhance their career and acquire new skills.

The program’s curriculum of ten 8-week accelerated courses with a completion time-frame of 20-months does require creative and disciplined studying habits for a professional with a full weekly schedule. Just because it’s an online program doesn’t mean it’s any less rigorous than being on campus. I warn you not to be fooled! This is a good thing because, like most, we want a great education from a top university like Purdue within an online program. Thus, its important to stay positive and focused because the ride will be worth it and in 20-months you will have completed your communication masters. Those of us with demanding schedules need to increasingly emphasize planning, discipline and organization, in order to be successful in the program.      

In my case, the online program was perfect. I juggled a demanding job of generating revenue for the firm with a commute time of 1-1/2 hours each way from my home in New Jersey to downtown Manhattan and a wife with three children. The benefits of not attending classes on campus allowed me to focus more on my coursework without adding commute time during the week. The courses are asynchronous creating more flexibility to schedule my studies around job demands, such as client meetings, to maximize personal and family time.

Each 8-week course requires weekly reading assignments, mini-projects and final projects with presentations. Every Wednesday night, a discussion post essay is due based on questions from that week’s reading assignment. This is followed by a minimum of two responses based on other classmates’ discussion posts, due by Sunday night. The rhythm you want to develop is to be ahead of the reading so you can start writing your discussion post and complete it between Monday and Tuesday. One tactic I used was contacting my professors before the next course started to get the reading assignments and begin reading as soon as possible. By Wednesday, I would be reading the following week’s (week 2) assignment and done by the weekend. Staying ahead of the reading gives you the capacity to work on the mini-projects, which are usually due between week 2 and 4, and final projects, due between week 6 and 7, followed by the project’s presentation at week 8 without becoming overwhelmed with work.

Being creative or nimble with my time was a key factor. For example, I would read and work on discussion posts on the train ride to work or waiting for a doctor’s appointment. If I had a client or family event I would plan the work assignments accordingly. Some of my best ideas and work happened on the New Jersey Transit. As a graduate student, I made it a habit to always carry my reading materials and Mac. My backpack became my best friend! I never wasted a chance to do coursework and during any downtime at work I would research for my projects. I was always writing down ideas or parts of my projects using a notebook, which was easier to flip open at work or while commuting. Therefore, I would conduct most research during the week and write the papers on the weekends.  

Take my advice:

  1. Stay focused
  2. Properly plan
  3. Be organized
  4. And most of all be disciplined with good habits.

While planning ahead, treat each week as a milestone. After about 3 courses, you will develop a system that will be customized around your busy schedule. You will soon be one of many great Purdue alumni. Boilerup!
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Joseph Porchetta is an alumni of Purdue’s online Master of Science in Communication degree program. The program can be completed in just 20 months and covers numerous topics critical for advancement in the communication industry, including crisis communication, social media engagement, focus group planning and implementation, survey design and survey analysis, public relations theory, professional writing, and communication ethics.

*The views and opinions expressed are of the author and do not represent the Brian Lamb School of Communication.