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Picture an Online Degree at Your Own Pace

Earning your degree online may allow you to balance life's responsibilities with education. It can also offer consistent schedules and support teams that align with your individual needs and timelines.
Tracey Burraston a 2015 BA in psychology graduate from SNHU and her daughter standing next to a brown horse

It might seem daunting to start on a path toward a new career or reach your personal goals with an online degree — especially if you've never gone this route before. But don't let that uncertainty hold you back.

Online learning doesn't try to replicate a traditional classroom setting, which brings with it the necessity to be in one place at a set time every week. Instead, as a student at an online university, you can still uphold your regular schedule. You can focus on schoolwork when it makes sense for you, and at a pace that fits your life.

If you're wondering how online courses work at Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU), you may be tasked with a combination of discussion posts, readings, academic papers and other assignments on a weekly basis. Consistently scheduled due dates allow you to complete coursework day or night, in large chunks or piece by piece. The short terms — 8 weeks for undergraduates and 10 for the master's level — allow you to register for courses year-round, doubling up when you can or taking a term off when you need to.

Find Your Program

Here's how five students have shown that earning an online degree at your own pace is possible.

Juggling School Work and Family Responsibilities

Many online students choose the non-traditional path because they have other obligations in their lives that make the on-campus experience an unrealistic option. For some people with full-time jobs and families, as well as others who simply do not live close enough to their desired colleges, attending an online university allows them to earn an online degree at their own pace.

Tracey Burraston a 2015 BA in psychology graduate from SNHUFor instance, Tracey Burraston ’15 not only balanced a full-time job and the duties of a mother to her five children, but also the challenges of living in a rural location. Despite these obstacles, she could still use her free time to tackle her online psychology degree in chunks.

While you may think you'll be on your own in a virtual environment, that's just one of several misconceptions about online college courses. Throughout your online education, you may have a support team including an academic advisor, course instructors, peer tutors and others who specialize in career services and financial aid.

Even when a snowstorm threatened to knock out her internet connection, Burraston's academic advisor was there to make sure she could continue working toward her online degree at her own pace.

"Living in such a rural area, I really needed an online program that would fit my life," Burraston said. "(My advisor) immediately got back to me. She was able to do whatever we needed to do to get it fixed. At that moment, it was clear to me that SNHU was committed to my success."

Fit and Flexibility: How SNHU Integrates with Rural Students' Lives

Getting a Degree While in the Military

Wyatt Martensen a 2021 BS in geosciences graduate from SNHUFor active-duty service members like Wyatt Martensen '21, attending a brick-and-mortar school is often out of the question. There are moves and deployments and other demands involved in military life.

While deployed in Afghanistan with the U.S. Army, Martensen said his chief warrant officer encouraged him to enroll at SNHU. "I said, 'Do you really think this is the right time for it?' and he looked at me, and he said, 'There's no better time to start than right now.'"

So, Martensen set out to earn an online bachelor's in geosciences at SNHU, which complimented the geospatial work he was doing and kept his career path beyond the military in mind.

Balancing deployment and college wasn't always easy. But, he said the structure of the online classes gave him the flexibility to work on assignments when it made sense for him — whether that be early on each week or during the weekend, ahead of an assignment deadline.

"There was no point in time where I felt extremely stressed out about taking the classes — even when I was deployed," Martensen said. And if his military service took him somewhere without access to a computer or the internet, his instructors worked with him.

"I believe that the entire staff and faculty at Southern New Hampshire University understands the military side of schooling better than most," he said.

Going to College and Working Full Time

An on-campus degree program requires you to show up to class regularly no matter what's happening in the rest of your life. The flexibility of online learning can allow you to structure your coursework around what's going on in your world.

Elanna Rubenstein a 2020 MA in communication graduate from SNHU holding an EmmyWhen Elanna Rubenstein ’20G decided to go back to school, she knew finding an online master's program was her only option. As a coverage producer for a major sports network, she said her job is fun but demanding. “Our mission is to serve sports fans anytime, anywhere,” she said. “That means working nights, weekends and holidays.”

After a coworker shared her positive experience at SNHU, Rubenstein enrolled in the online master's in communication and found she could fit her classwork in on her schedule, regardless of how it looked that week. 

“I know my work-life balance during (football) season is a lot different than the off-season, so learning to balance school during long work weeks was a challenge at first,” she said. But she adjusted accordingly and passed in assignments at times that made sense for her — even if it was early in the morning while she was traveling for a big game.

“For anyone that is thinking about going back to school but not sure if they can manage it, I always say: Take the jump,” Rubenstein said. “Going back to school was not only the best decision for my professional growth, but I felt a personal growth that I am not sure I would have found otherwise.”

Finishing a Bachelor's Degree Faster at an Online University

Learning how many credits you’ll need to graduate is crucial when it comes to mapping out your college timeline — as is deciding how many classes you can take per term. And, if you already accumulated credits at another college, be sure to find a transfer-friendly university that counts them toward your current experience.

Latisha Aguilar a 2021 BA in psychology graduate from SNHULatisha Aguilar ’21 attended college after high school, but she wasn’t sure what type of career she wanted to pursue. Now, after becoming a mother to a child with special needs and gaining professional experience working with children, she's set her sights on an eventual role as a middle school guidance counselor.

Aguilar transferred almost 90 credits from previous experiences to SNHU and got right to work finishing her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a concentration in child and adolescent development. The 8-week bachelor degree course terms and flexible coursework schedules — along with the credits transferred — allowed her to move faster through the program than she anticipated.

"When I initially started at Southern New Hampshire University, I said I'm going to take one class at a time, just to get a feel for it," she said. "But … after the first term was complete, I felt like I could do more."

So, she doubled up and finished her bachelor’s in two years — all while raising four children and working full-time as an interventions behavioral specialist. “I’m just grateful because I feel like I'm just another step forward to reaching my goal,” Aguilar said.

Now she’s ready to embark on her master’s degree — the credential she’ll need to achieve her professional goals.

Taking Care of Business, Saving Time and Money

Blake Venable a 2024 bachelor's in accounting graduate from SNHUWhile a degree is an investment in your future, the cost can be challenging — and, in some cases, out of reach. When Blake Venable '24 decided it was time to go back to school and complete his bachelor's in accounting, he was prepared to take on loans to pay for school.

Much to his surprise, he didn't have to.

“I started to talk with an advisor, and I saw that it was not only ... affordable, (but) it was also something that I could integrate into what I was already doing," Venable said. He decided he was going to try his best to pay for it out of pocket — and so far, that's what he's done, allowing him to advance toward his degree, at his own pace, without additional debt.

"I never considered I could actually pay for my school myself as I go," he said.

Given Venable was able to fully transfer in all credits from his associate degree when he started at SNHU, he cut his time to complete his bachelor's in half, saving a good deal of money as well.

The financial savings is important, as is his time. His work keeps him plenty busy; Venable owns three businesses and focuses primarily on his career during Monday through Friday, leaving weekends for schoolwork. That's not to say he doesn't fit assignments in during the week when he can. When time permits, he often works ahead so he'll be prepared should work demands need additional attention.

"Flexibility for me is everything," Venable said. "Things are constantly changing in my world, so having a school like SNHU that is so flexible...(it) allows me to work on things at any time."

A degree can change your life. Find the SNHU online degree that can best help you meet your goals. 

Pamme Boutselis ’15, ’17G is an award-winning writer and content producer, currently serving as a senior director of content and a communication adjunct at Southern New Hampshire University. She loves hearing and sharing stories. As a writer spanning a 25-year career, her work has been featured in print and online via news media, career and education-focused blogs, regional magazines, technology publications and more.

A bachelor’s and master’s in communication — earned as an adult learner — positively impacted her life and career, melding decades in diverse industries with professional and academic knowledge and experience. A serial volunteer, Boutselis has been a TEDx organizer since 2013 and a speaker coach. She’s been fortunate to work with dozens of nonprofits throughout the years. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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About Southern New Hampshire University

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SNHU is a nonprofit, accredited university with a mission to make high-quality education more accessible and affordable for everyone.

Founded in 1932, and online since 1995, we’ve helped countless students reach their goals with flexible, career-focused programs. Our 300-acre campus in Manchester, NH is home to over 3,000 students, and we serve over 135,000 students online. Visit our about SNHU page to learn more about our mission, accreditations, leadership team, national recognitions and awards.