Before I start this blog, one quick aside. I'm a nontrad on a college campus, not an online student. That doesn't mean I have nothing in common with online nontrads - we're on the same freeway, just different lanes. I tried online (a Spanish class) and all I have to say is - you online nontrads have my total admiration and respect! Hang in there!!
Advising will make or break you as a student. If you get good advising, you will be in and out of school with as few headaches as possible. If you get bad advising, you will be in school twice as long as necessary. I had the best advisor for the first couple years of my journey. Her name is Julie Sass. She left UT to take a job at the University of Maryland ("Fear the Turtle!"). I miss her. She really knows her stuff.
Here at UT, we have a nice little program called DARS - Degree Audit Reporting System. This lists out all the stuff you need for your major. It tells you how many hours you need of what requirement, how many hours you've completed of that requirement, how many are in process and how many requirements you've completed. I did the happy dance when it said I finally completed my math requirement (think Snoopy).
It's best to schedule an advising appointment early and not wait until the last minute with the other 99% of the student body. That way, you and the advisor are not rushed through figuring out your classes and you end up with something you don't need, like the The Archaeology of Western Lowland Samoa, instead of something you do need like College Algebra.
If your school has something like DARS, use it. Prior to my first semester at UT, I had an orientation with Julie. She helped me to map out my first two semesters at UT. That's when I found out I'd have to do summer school. Once Julie got me started and showed me what to do, I pretty much could do the rest from there. Julie was my advisor in the College of Arts and Sciences. When I declared my major, I was assigned an advisor in the History Department.
If you don't know what classes to take or have questions about transferring classes from another institution, speak to an advisor. Back on December 5, 2008, I blogged about "Lessons Learned from Being a Nontrad". Lesson #4 was "Ask questions and bug the heck out of whomever you need to until you get a satisfactory answer." The basics are the basics and everyone has to get those out of the way (general education). But what about the upper level distribution requirement versus classes in your major, etc.? The advisor should be knowledgeable enough to help you sort out those questions. If you come across an advisor who doesn't seem to know their stuff, say something.
As a nontrad, these are the basics you need to know when you go to advising:
1. Will classes from another institution transfer?
2. Will classes from X number of years ago transfer?
3. What do I have to do to "petition" for a class to transfer? Is it worth petitioning?
4. Can I test out of a required class? (you may be able to test out of several semesters)
5. Does any of my work experience count toward class credit?
6. Do any classes I have had to take as part of my job count toward class credit?
7. Do previous certificate programs count toward class credit?
A good friend told me, "Don't work harder than you have to." That was in regard to computer programming, which I didn't understand anyway, but you get the point. If any previous experience you have, whether it's on the job or educational, can be counted toward class credit, use it! My credits were 20 years old by the time I decided to return to school. Another friend of mine told me she was told her 20-year old credits were too old to transfer and she had to start all over again. I started as a junior as opposed to her starting as a freshman.
Use the resources available to you. Ask questions, ask questions and ask more questions until you feel confident you have the schedule that is going to keep you on the right road toward your goal. In the end, you (and I) will have that degree and (hopefully) it will all be worth it.
Stay tuned . . .