I'm finished.

Today I am proud to announce that I am done with my degree! I finished my degree with a 4.0 GPA and now hold a bachelors degree in business administration with a minor in small business.

Despite the advice of my parents and teachers I decided to take some time off right out of high school so that I could earn some money and, “more importantly”, spend some time surfing. I stuck with my intentions of signing up for classes after a year off and enrolled in courses at FCCJ. I found the process difficult as I had become attached to the income stream from working and found that with school I had little time to surf anymore. So I went back and forth between taking classes and not for a few years and completed a large portion of my associates degree (FCCJ only offered associates). I decided to transfer over to UNF to finish up, despite not knowing what I wanted to major in. I have lot of interests and was trying to decide between architecture, engineering, physics, computer science, and a few others. However, I only took a couple courses there when I got a job offer in Savannah that I couldn’t pass up.

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Image 1: My graduating class (image borrowed from here)

Once in Savannah I found that I would now be paying out of state tuition and decided to wait one year so that I’d be qualified as a Georgia resident and would be eligible for the Hope scholarship. After the year was up I enrolled at Armstrong Atlantic State University and decided to focus on a computer science major. My employer was participating in the ICAPP program so I was able to complete a large portion of my coursework during the work day, while getting paid for it. I don’t remember the exact number but I completed roughly half of my major courses in this fashion. The rest were up to me to finish at night.

When first settling on the CS major I found that there were plenty of night classes available and I could accommodate them by only slightly shifting my work schedule. This trend did not last. I found myself with 15 or so courses left, all major courses, with none that would fit into my schedule. I calculated the time that it would take to finish at the rate I could fit the courses into my work schedule and arrived at just under seven years. So I lobbied the dean, the professors, and even board members of the CS department, all to no avail. So I left.

I signed up for courses with South University and settled on a Business Administration major. I decided on this change for three main reasons. First, I had already been working in the software industry for a number of years and found that large portions of the coursework in the CS degree were review for me. It was simply painful to pay that much money to “learn” things I already know. While there were tidbits of new information and things that I hadn’t gotten to yet, such as discrete math, I was not finding the degree overly challenging. Second, South University did not offer a CS degree. The closest they offered was an IT degree, however that was of little interest to me. Finally, South offered the BA degree both in person and online, which meant that I could fit it into my schedule much easier. Most of my courses transferred from the other schools I had attended so I found myself with just over a two year stint at South in order to finish.

There are a lot of misconceptions about online schools and many people view them as paid for degrees. Here are a couple things I learned about online schooling:

1. You only get out what you put in.
There are no verbal lectures and nobody standing over you to make sure you do your work. The format of the classes would allow for students to simply look up the answers and data for each paper and ignore the rest of the material. However, this would also mean that the student didn’t learn anywhere near as much as they could or should have. I chose to read everything and study hard and I feel that I got a lot out of the experience. I noticed some students that would enter irrelevant or extremely short papers, leading me to believe that they were just “paying for a degree”. With an online format you can get a great education but you have to be willing to work very hard for it.

2. They are very flexible.
I am not sure how others work, but the way this school worked is you had a schedule for each course laid out at the beginning of the class. From day 1 you knew all your reading assignments, had your online lectures to read, and had a list of assignments and when they were due. Because of this I could shift things around to accommodate my work and personal schedules much easier.

3. You get very little downtime.
There are assignments due on most days and interaction between students is required. Because of this it is extremely hard to take vacations or just have some time away without significantly cutting into your grade. Throughout this time my vacations required me to find some place to sign on and submit assignments. Sometimes this was easy but others, such as deep in the mountains of West Virginia, proved very difficult. I’m now looking forward to vacations again.

4. There is a ton of reading.
I estimate that I read approximately 25,000 pages of material throughout the degree. While I could have skipped it I wouldn’t have gotten my money’s worth and wouldn’t have learned anywhere near as much as I did.

5. There is a ton of writing.
The online format, at least for South University, is entirely paper based. There were no quizzes or tests and I typically had 6 to 10 papers due each week. My writing skills improved immensely, at least in my mind, and the essay structure caused me to have to think about the interrelations of all the topics in much more depth than I would have had to for a quiz or test.

I found a couple things out during this degree. I discovered that I really enjoy economics. Perhaps this is because it is the only coursework I really had to struggle with to maintain an A (I got an 89.92 in micro-economics and was spared an A only by the school’s rounding policy). I discovered that I am naturally a stronger leader than I once thought. I learned that I actually like the business side of operations. The pivotal moment in this last part for me came during my business simulation course. Up until this point I had learned the different aspects of operating a business but had yet to have any way to put it all together. The business simulation course did just that.

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Image 2: BSG-Online data entry program. (Click for larger view)

The course used the BSG Online simulation program to facilitate the game/course. The simulation started in year 10 of a sneaker company and ran through year 19. Year 11 was when we, as teams, were given leadership of the company. We had to handle marketing, operations, finance, and everything in between (See Image 2). While this was intriguing to me before we started, I found that once we began I was totally hooked. I spent hours pouring over competition data, simulation numbers, and different strategies my team could follow. We started out in year 11 by placing 3rd of 6. We had decided upon a differentiation strategy via high levels of marketing and a huge celebrity appeal through endorsements so we knew there would be a time lag while the marketing efforts began to work. We analyzed the data, made a couple shifts, then took first place and maintained it throughout the rest of the game. We wrapped up the course with a presentation to “investors” (classmates) that outlined why they should invest in us over others (See Image 3).


Image 3: EPS screen of final presentation – we were Team C (Click for larger)

All in all it was a great experience and I learned a lot. I am ecstatic about the prospect of having my lunches, nights, and weekends back though.

 

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Jason McDonald

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2 Comments

  • Thanks.

    Its the public restroom effect. When people (collectively) use public restrooms they are more likely to not clean up after themselves than when they are using their own restroom. When I am learning on my own dime I am far more likely to work hard to learn than if it is free to me.

  • Congratulations!!!!!

    And I too can vouch for the “if you pay for it yourself, you will strive to get more out of your education” approach.

    Way to go, brother.

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