What It Means to Be an Online Graduate Student

There are many reasons why someone would choose to pursue an online graduate degree but for many the primary reason is often related to their career. There may be a goal of career advancement, making a career change, or acquiring subject matter knowledge and expertise. Regardless of the reason, an online graduate student will find that an advanced degree requires a different set of skills and expectations. Starting a graduate degree program may be challenging at first – especially if it has been some time since the undergraduate degree was completed; however, knowing the basics will help to make the transition easier and the work more meaningful.

The general expectation of a graduate student is that they have acquired basic academic skills sets from their undergraduate degree and when they start a new class they will know how to look for necessary resources, build working relationships with their instructors, and ask questions when they need assistance. Even if it has been some time since they were in school it is expected that they will be highly motivated to find what they need. In other words, they already know the basic academic process and the learning curve for starting this degree program should be shorter than the last one.

Advanced Academic Skills

One of the first expectations that students learn about is the development of their academic skill sets. Graduate writing requires students to pay meticulous attention to details and that includes spelling, grammar, word choice, and sentence structuring. This also includes formatting of their papers, which for many schools is based upon the APA Manual. Throughout the course of their degree program students may find that some instructors focus on the content of their papers when they are providing feedback and others who look also address the mechanics and overall formatting. In addition, some instructors provide their own interpretation of the formatting guidelines rather than strictly follow the required manual. Whether or not the writing and formatting standards have been strictly enforced or upheld, it is the student’s responsibility to know the proper guidelines and submit well written papers.

Advanced Cognition

It is expected that graduate students will demonstrate advanced cognitive functions and this includes the use of critical thinking skills. This means that all of the information received through the course materials and other readings needs to be carefully processed as they will be asked to do more than recall the knowledge they’ve acquired. Moving into advanced cognition includes analyzing and synthesizing information, problem-solving, and developing new ideas or solutions. A graduate student should be prepared to engage themselves in intellectual discourse, ask meaningful questions, welcome diverse perspectives, and seek out new challenges that allow them to apply what they’ve learned to the real world.

Purposeful Communication

As an online graduate student it is expected that all communication will also demonstrate advanced writing skills and always have a purpose for what is written. With every email sent or discussion posting made, proper tone should be used and the message clearly stated so that it prompts a two-way conversation. All communication with your instructors should exhibit utmost respect at all times and never appear challenging. This requires strict social and emotional intelligence at all times. Learn to ask what you need with a willingness to listen and use their advice and guidance.

Research Focused

This is another aspect of graduate work that takes time and practice to learn and implement. A graduate student needs to move beyond opinion pieces and write well-developed and well-researched discussion question responses and academic papers. When writing academic papers students need to learn to avoid the use of direct quotes as it merely becomes page filler and instead, learn to paraphrase information from their sources (with an in-text citation) to demonstrate they are working with information instead of using it. What is valued the most is the student’s analysis, occasionally supported with research. All of this is a matter of developing an intellectual curiosity to learn more about the subject matter studied, for the purpose of applying it to the student’s professional life, resolving real-world problems, broadening their worldview, developing new ideas, and contributing new thoughts to their chosen field.

Becoming a graduate student brings with it new responsibilities and it will also require a focused mindset. Students must learn to take responsibility for their work and change their perspective about the locus of control. While there may certainly be imperfect course materials and occasionally an instructor who the student does not care for, regardless of the reason, the outcomes they receive with their coursework is in direct relationship to their performance. Graduate work can be challenging but also extremely rewarding as a student is expected to acquire and utilize advanced academic skills. The final outcome is more than the acquisition of a degree. The student will likely be intellectually stronger and more focused, with an ability to use advanced research, writing, and communication skills.