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How Online College Changed My Life for the Better

Going to college was a dream for me when getting out of the Air Force around 22 years ago. Visions of learning, reading books, and earning degrees filled my ambitious mind. I wanted to be a secondary education history teacher.

I started the journey at a community college in Eugene OR called Lane Community College. Working full-time as a janitor and using all the financial aid I could get (I opted out of the GI Bill in basic training), I was dedicated to the vision of earning my Associate’s transfer degree and then graduating from the University of Oregon with my Bachelor’s degree.

To make a long story short, I ended up becoming a college dropout. Fortunately, I’ve lived long enough to redeem myself and am set to graduate in two months, at 43 years old, with my B.S. in Human Services with a Criminal Justice concentration from Walden University. 

I thought starting out this article with my personal story might intrigue readers to consider their own situation and what is possible. Honestly, going back to an on-campus college with traditional semesters and class schedules wasn’t something I would have done, but going to an online college was. 

How I Came Back to College

After being disillusioned with my golf course greenskeeping job at Bandon Dunes Resort (being a greenskeeper is one of my dream jobs), I started thinking deeply about doing something more meaningful in my life. 

Having struggled in my 20s with bad choices that lead to homelessness, drug addictions, poverty, and job difficulties, I wanted to work with the homeless and help people. So, I looked up jobs for the homeless on my phone and found many case management positions doing just this around the U.S.

Most of these jobs asked for a Bachelor’s Degree in social work, the behavioral sciences, or human services. Taking this clue, I then searched for colleges offering these degrees. From this impetus, I found the college where I’m now earning my degree called Walden University. 

Walden University 

Walden University is a solely online college — there is no campus or physical facility beyond its administrative centers. They do have physical locations for graduation ceremonies. 

Some degrees are earned fully online while others require field practicum courses in the physical, sort of like an internship. 

Walden University is unique because it is fully online and always has been; it started in 1970 long before the internet was accessible to the masses or even around. They focused on giving working professionals a chance to earn their master's and graduate degrees through correspondent courses. 

Now, in 2022, we have many options when it comes to earning our college degrees. Most online degrees are from colleges that also offer in-person learning, that have a physical campus. Liberty and Capella Universities are examples. 

The interesting and unique aspect of Walden is how they format their schedule and classes. Here are these unique aspects:

  • They use quarters instead of semesters. 
  • Each class is worth 5 credits instead of 3 or 4. 
  • The school is year-round with only one-week breaks between quarters.
  • Students take one class at a time. 
  • Classes are 6 weeks long instead of the traditional 12–15 weeks.  
  • There are no set times students have to attend virtual classes. 
  • Undergraduates need 181 credits for their degree. 
  • Takes 4.5 years to graduate without accelerated learning

As stated in the beginning, I went to a community college for about two years (I was able to transfer 59 out of 78 credits), so I can contrast the difference between the traditional college format and schedule with this alternative online one. 

The main benefit is being able to work full-time, have a family, and still work towards earning your degree. 

The main drawback is the lack of a significant break in the course of 4.5 years — only one month a year spread out as one week between each quarter. 

I don’t know of any other online college that offers this type of format, although there are others that can be earned completely online as well. 

Are Online Colleges Accredited?

The short answer is yes; all of the main online colleges are as accredited regionally and nationally as traditional in-person colleges. For instance, the B.S. in Social Work degree at Walden is accredited by the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE); and in general, Walden University is accredited by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), which is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and the Council for Higher Education Accreditation. 

Walden University and other respected online college degrees will be backed by as much accreditation as traditional colleges; of course, this will vary depending on what they specialize in teaching. 

How Rigorous are Walden’s Classes?

This article isn’t trying to influence anyone to go to Walden University specifically, rather it is simply explaining my experience there in some measure to give my readers an idea of going to online college in general. 

The main point I can make is, college is what you make of it. The same is true with online classes. This question is vague because many variables are involved, such as the subject studying, the professor, the college, and the person’s perspective. 

Taking one class at a time is easier, yet the workload in each class is more. There is more reading involved, yet there aren’t as many tests. People who love to write would do well with online colleges, especially at Walden. 

The classes have the same general format with discussions and assignments each week. Sometimes there will be a test, journal, quiz, or a random virtual activity like interviewing another classmate. The assignments are generally essays. 

I would say the classes are as rigorous as traditional in-person colleges, except they may be easier to get by without reading all the material. Considering the student is paying good money for the classes, it is in their best interest to read all the material and be proactive in their learning. The same is true at any school or college —  what you get out of it will depend on your effort. 

Finishing Thoughts

Going back to college has been a massive positive for me in my early 40s. It has helped me keep a promise to myself to finish my Bachelor’s degree within my lifetime. Now, with this B.S. in Human Service degree, I have the opportunity to work as a case manager, probation officer, addiction counselor, and more. 

Recently, I applied for a peer specialist homeless outreach worker in Deschutes County, which may just be the beginning of my formal practice of helping others within the field of social services. 

I have also had the pleasure to attend Walden University with my wife; she is already using her college education and working in the field as an alcohol and drug addiction counselor. With both of us in recovery from drug and alcohol addictions, these steps toward improvement are very encouraging in our lives. 

My wife and I have been at the bottom of society and have suffered many challenging situations and circumstances in our lives. Having the opportunity to go back to college while working full-time and living in a remote rural area has been a wonderful gift from God.  

While going to in-person college has many benefits, including the social aspect, going to online college makes the dream possible for those who are parents and/or work full-time. I encourage you to consider this option and check out what is available. Making each week another stepping stone to earning your degree is a rewarding experience, and it very well may change your life for the better too. 


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