Strategies for Success in an Online Program

How to be Successful in Online Courses

Online degree programs offer students the flexibility to earn their degree while balancing schoolwork with their personal and professional lives. With most of North Central’s online degree programs being offered in an asynchronous format, students can build time into their schedules to complete the assignments and readings each week.

Successful online degree students carefully manage their time, plan ahead and reach out early and often for assistance when needed. They dig deep into the readings and course materials, adding new ideas and information to course discussions and assignments.

Below are a few tips for ensuring success in an online degree program!


  • Be comfortable communicating through writing. Some classes may give you chances for video or audio chat, but most of what you will be doing in online classes is writing. Contact your instructor or student services if you are struggling with the writing portion of the class. North Central’s Writing Center also provides dedicated support for graduate students. Reach out to schedule a virtual appointment here.
  • Be ready to work in online groups. Part of your assignments may include working together with your peers. These group projects are a great way to connect with other students and develop your collaboration skills. Utilize the strengths each person can bring to the assignment, find a form of communication that works best for your group (email, video chat, etc.) and work together to create deadlines to help keep your project on track.
  • Be willing to share stories about your life, past classes, work experience, etc. One of the benefits of an online degree program is the ability to bring together students from across the country (and even the world!) who can all bring their own unique experiences and perspective to the table. Sharing with and learning from your peers is a great way to broaden your worldview and offers valuable takeaways you can apply to your own workplace. Instructors work hard to make sure these discussions are safe and respectful.
  • Schedule time to be a student. With the freedom and flexibility of online courses comes the responsibility of finishing the work. Building time into each day to dedicate to your graduate coursework is essential to ensuring you stay on top of assignments. You need to be prepared to spend significant hours on each class, maybe as much as 12 or 15 hours each week depending on the course.
    • Plan on spending 2-3 hours studying each week per course
    • At the start of the semester, go through the course calendar and markdown deadlines
    • Log onto Blackboard and look over each class daily
    • Pace yourself, day to day, giving plenty of time to space out required readings, assignments and posting to discussions
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Because you are not in the same room as the instructor, it is harder for them to know if you are struggling with an aspect of the course. Many instructors will have online virtual office hours and are available via email. If you find that you are having difficulties, you can also reach out to your academic advisor to see what resources may be available to help guide you.
  • Join the class community. Casual discussions can make the course more enjoyable for you, help you make friends and network with your classmates, and increase your motivation. Make a point to jump in discussions and engage with your peers.
  • Be sure you have access to the internet and a good computer. While it is possible to access classes with smartphones or tablets, you will find the coursework is easier to complete on a computer. Be sure you have other helpful equipment such as headphones and a reliable internet connection.
  • Find a comfortable, convenient study space. Having a dedicated space to use regularly for assignments and studying will help in creating good habits and allows for a separate of school work from your professional, personal, or family tasks.
  • Learn how to navigate your courses. Take some time to learn your way around Blackboard or Canvas, as this is where the readings, lectures, notes, and discussion boards are, located. Also, explore what else is available online, like the library or student services.
graduate students studying on laptops

Graduate Online Learning

Online Frequently Asked Questions

Online Equipment and Technology Requirements