College education takes all sorts of shapes these days, as students more often choose nontraditional routes to a degree. Many people of different ages, backgrounds, and career goals are now looking to online education programs. Here's why one person chose an online degree.
Mike Mayle followed an interesting route to an online degree. He began his academic career at Ohio State University, majoring in audio engineering because, as a teenager, he says, he wanted to pursue something "arty and cool."
But Mayle felt restless at school, walked into a recruiter's office as a sophomore, and then spent six years in the Navy. Afterward, he used the G.I. Bill, which provides college tuition benefits to veterans, and studied at Community College of Philadelphia, where he worked construction jobs and played in a few bands on the side. He later attended Temple University and received a bachelor's degree in computer science in 2004.
Since 2007, Mayle has been working at Turnkey, a recruiting firm for sports and entertainment groups, where he's now the chief technology officer. In 2008, he decided to pursue his master's degree online—a goal he had from his OSU days—as he worked full time.
Online program: Drexel University in Philadelphia
Degree pursued and graduation year: M.S. in software engineering, March 2011
Why an online degree: "It was kind of a goal that by the time I was 40, I would get my master's degree," Mayle says. And with his full-time job at Turnkey, he says, "There's a lot of responsibility and very little time to do anything, so it sounded to me like online would be a perfect fit for me."
Degree impact: "When I went back to get my master's, I thought, 'I feel like I know everything already; why am I getting an extra degree?' I felt like it was more for a piece of paper—for pride," he says. But Mayle was pleasantly surprised. "Some of the skills I've learned with my master's degree, I've immediately started applying and really improved the product that we're able to put out."
Biggest challenge of earning an online degree: "I would get behind on lectures every once in a while because I had the freedom to get behind," Mayle says of the procrastination that can be a result of taking classes at your own pace. He began taking public transportation to work—even though the ride was 20 minutes longer than if he had driven—so that he could watch an online lecture as he traveled. He says that students have to be very disciplined to take online classes.
Advice for future online students: "Don't take it lightly." Mayle says that while initially taking online classes is exciting, "by the third semester it's kind of becoming a chore, and you really have to maintain focus." He also points out how difficult it can be to plan classes around a family. "You have to consider everything if you're going to do this," he says.
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