Tips for Success in Online Degree Programs

April 14, 2022  |  by Kimberly Snow, Guest Writer

Being a successful online student takes a few extra skills that anyone can accomplish once you know where to focus your time, energy and what is expected of you. Typical online students at the University of Arkansas are in their mid-30s and taking classes part-time with many other responsibilities in life and demands on their time. So, how do they manage to complete online degree programs? These tips for success may help.

Organization, Focus, Time Management, Self-Care

You need to be organized so you don't miss assignments and due dates. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • As soon as you get your syllabus from each class, put every due date into your online calendar or on a paper one. Go a step further and schedule time for reading assignments, time to work on homework, and several sessions to work on big papers. This will help you know in advance when school life is going to get busy. Color code your calendar. Some people like having a different color for each class subject. Figure out what works for your brain.
  • Set up separate folders on your computer for each of your classes. Save your syllabus, all of your assignments, notes and anything else related to that class in this folder with the class name on it. When it comes time to upload your assignment, you won't have to dig for it or panic about it getting lost in your hard drive.
  • Find time during your day when you can block out the rest of the world, if only in 30-minute increments or less. If you can focus on your reading, writing, or homework for even a few minutes, that attention to concentration is important to success.
  • In online degree programs, managing your time is key. As an online student, you may find it's easy to put off your reading assignment one more day when you don't have to worry about being called on in class in front of other students. However, that one more day eventually adds up to two weeks of reading assignments and a failed quiz. Instead, try scheduling tasks to get in a routine every week. For example, during lunch break spend 30 minutes reading, then do homework on Tuesday and Thursday nights after dinner or whatever works for you.
  • Life is busy and you are working hard to accomplish so much. Remembering to take care of yourself is one of the most important tips for success. Establish a routine and stick to it. Those activities include studying, healthy eating, exercise and self-care. Use the alarm on your phone to remind yourself to study, to turn in a paper or even that your study time is up.
    • Rest. Get plenty of sleep. Aim for six to eight hours per night.
    • Hydrate. Stop asking how much. Drink more water.
    • Sunshine. Open some windows. Go outside. Breathe some fresh air. Do your homework outside.
    • Stretch. College works hard to stretch our minds, but don't forget to step away from the computer and stretch your body.


The Do's and Don'ts of Online Communication

If you have a question about your class or assignment, someone else probably has the same question. Ask.

  • If you don't understand, ask.
  • If you want more information, ask.
  • If you would like to interact more with your fellow students, ask.

Do you have a problem with a grade? Ask for a phone call or a meeting, either in person or online.

The professors and instructors who teach your classes are subject matter experts because they are passionate about what they are teaching you. They want you to get the most out of this class and are here to help you. All you have to do is ask.

Knowing how to navigate the world of online communication isn't always easy for students studying online. Is there a right and wrong way to address my instructor? What if I'm having problems and need help? Here are some do's and don'ts of academia and the business world.

Do ask questions.

Instructors love to know that you are engaged and curious, but they need to know when you are having problems, too. They want to help.

You can also get help from our online student liaisons and our coaches for online students.

check sign icon Do...


Do be clear and concise about your needs. State exactly what the problem is. No need to make excuses or blame anyone. Stick to the facts. Then, clearly and specifically state your need and ask your question. Don't forget to say please and thank you, either. These small niceties go further than you may think.

Do send short messages with short sentences. Get to your point and remove anything that doesn't further your message. Use bullet points if necessary.

Do address your instructor by their proper name: Mr. Smith, Dr. Smith. Pay attention to how they introduce themselves. If they don't make it clear during their introduction, then it is acceptable to use Ms. and Mr. until otherwise corrected. Don't ever address your instructors by "Hey Mike," "Hey dude," "Yo, whatsup" or anything else informal. It is considered disrespectful and highly discouraged.

Do focus on one core message per email, if possible. This one is tricky. If you must ask more than one question in an email, break your questions up into separate paragraphs and number your questions. Then, restate your questions at the end of the email for clarification. You can also use bullet points if necessary.

minus sign icon Don't...


Don't wait until the last minute. Remember to allow a reasonable time for a response. Typically, that is 24-48 hours. Be patient. We all have busy lives. Speak up early if you are feeling frustrated, overwhelmed or upset about a grade.

Don't let emotions and problems worsen. Communication can almost always solve the problem.

Don't ever send an email when you are mad, frustrated or upset. Being professional and courteous will always get you much further than yelling and being rude. Stop and think about what you want out of this interaction. To get help with your problem, first step away for a few minutes and calm down. Then write your message.

Don't use subtleties or ambiguous language. Trying to be subtle in the digital world can lead to misunderstandings. Some people and cultures feel that being direct is rude; however, in the digital world it is appreciated and will save you time and needless explanations for problems that were misinterpreted.

Don't write in ALL CAPS. It is considered rude as if you are yelling.

Don't use emojis when speaking to your instructor or in any other professional communication. You may consider the emoji funny and someone else may interpret it as offensive. Do not use chat acronyms. They are often misunderstood. If you use LOL and you mean "Laugh Out Loud" while your instructor thinks it means "Lots of Love" .... awkward.

Don't make jokes or use sarcasm. They don't translate well. Perception matters. Be professional.


Reread your message before you send it. If it doesn't make sense or flow well for you, then it won't for the person you are sending it to, either. Check spelling and punctuation. Why does spelling and punctuation matter in a quick email? It tells the reader that you pay attention to detail. It's a trust signal; it says, "I do good work."

Grammar is the groundwork of clear communication. People don't have time to figure out what you are trying to say. Therefore, the better the grammar, the clearer the message, the more likely you are to get your message across the first time. After all, wasn't that your intent in sending the message?


Setting Small Goals Moves You Forward

Make a daily to-do list. This will give you a sense of direction and accomplishment. Keep the list short, no more than three tasks. Then prioritize them. Write your list on a small piece of paper to help keep you from adding to your list.

Write the overflow on another piece of paper and put it away out of sight until it's time to make your next daily to-do list.

Write each item on your list as a specific action. For example: instead of writing "Do English paper" write "Do journal article search for XYZ terms." Think of it this way; what is the first step to complete that task? Write that as your to-do item.

Do not multitask. Complete one task at a time and do it completely. Then move on to the next task.

You can find more information to ensure your success studying in online degree programs on the University of Arkansas Online website.

Photo of Kimberly Snow

Kimberly Snow

Guest Writer

Kimberly Snow is a former recruiter for the University of Arkansas Online. She became a non-traditional student at 42 and obtained her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in communication. While getting her master’s degree in communication, she taught public speaking and developed a passion for helping students find their way in life.

Online Learner Blog Home



University of Arkansas ONLINE programs are designed by academic departments on the Fayetteville campus to offer you another path to earning a degree from a top-tier public research university. Online programs give you the flexibility to balance family, work and school responsibilities.

Program Page