Is it possible to earn a degree while traveling? Can you really study and travel at the same time?
I recently graduated with a Master’s degree from one of the universities in the US. When I applied, I was living outside the US and traveling full-time. Good thing, the university I chose offered online courses.
Choosing between traveling or earning a degree can be tough, especially when you wish to get them both done before setting into a professional career. While a degree is a requirement for a step up in your work field, the hands-on experience you get from traveling is unmatched.
Earning a degree while traveling is possible. You don’t need to give up one to get the other. This is why I am going to share with you my experience and some ways on how to study and travel at the same time.
Things to consider before getting a degree
1. Cost of education
a. Tuition – Many online schools charge by credit hour or course, rather than by term. Know how many credit hours to complete your degree and how many credit hours you can transfer.
b. Additional fees – When I enrolled for my course, I did not realize that I was not only paying for my tuition. I also had to pay for Electronic Course Materials or resource fees, and miscellaneous fees. So know the TOTAL amount before you make a decision.
Of course, once you’ve completed your degree, you will also pay for your own graduation gown, and for your Transcripts. Everything adds up without you knowing it. Oh! Don’t forget you also need to invest in a good laptop and wifi – so that’s an additional expense if you don’t have yet.
c. In-person requirements – For some courses, residency or on-site components are needed. Know how many times in a year you need to be in school. Most likely, you will pay for your own travel expenses, flight fares, and hotels.
2. Financial capacity
How will you pay for it? Whether you go to a community college or to a private school, earning a degree ain’t cheap… especially when you have other priorities in life (like bills, kids, medical, etc).
I know this very well because I am a stay-at-home mom. So we rely solely on my husband’s income. Plus we have two kids. So for me to further my education is an additional burden to my husband financially.
a. Check for scholarships and grants – Most universities offer scholarships. There are also companies and/or individuals that offer scholarships. My husband and I offer scholarships for aspiring pilots through OBAP.
The thing about scholarships, you may or may not qualify. Some companies have several requirements like essays, videos, recommendation letters, etc. I had applied to several scholarships and was not lucky enough to be selected. Ugh!
b. Company reimbursement – Check if your company is offering educational assistance for professional development.
c. Military discounts – Of course, if you are a veteran, don’t forget to take advantage of the discounts.
d. FAFSA – Let student loan be your last option. You will be in debt for the next 10 years (or sooner if you start paying earlier and more). But, yeah, this is still an option. Remember, choose your major wisely. They play a big role in your student loan.
3. Choice of University
It is important to have at least three to five options. Compare them to determine how many credits you can transfer, and the cost of your education.
As much as we want to graduate from an Ivy League or top universities, if it’s not practical, don’t push it. I chose a private university. Why?
This particular institution accredited my previous school which is outside the US. As an international student, they did not require me to get IELTS or TOEFL. I also didn’t need to come up with 2 or 3 recommendation letters. So I just bite the bullet, and pay more. Time is gold, y’know!
4. Your schedule
If you are working, can you still add a couple of hours a day to studying? If you are a stay-at-home mom, what are the ages of your kids? Can you at least get a break so you can do your homework?
Are there any big events coming up like a wedding or moving to a new house? You may want to wait until everything settles down before you start. Some majors are more time consuming than others.
Determination, with an optimistic attitude, is the key to success. – Dalai Lama
How to earn a degree while traveling
1. Get the right equipment.
Obviously, you need a fast/reliable internet connection and a laptop!
Before I started with my courses, my academic counselor asked me what I would do if I lose my internet connection, and/or if my laptop hang. If you are an online student, ‘no internet connection’ and ‘laptop not working’ are not valid excuses to not submit homework.
Believe me, anything can happen! But I have never made excuses, and I make sure I submit my homework on time. There were times where I submitted homework less than 5 minutes before midnight. I was panicking. LOL. You get a point deduction for each day you are late.
I am on T-mobile international plan where you get unlimited texting and data overseas with no international data-roaming charges. Sure, it is not fast in some countries. But it will work if I am on the road and I need to read some materials, or check emails. If you are in a hotel, use their wifi. Or you can also buy one of those portable wifi devices.
You may use your phones or iPads for researching or submitting requirements. But I prefer the laptop. We used ‘Blackboard’ software for our online course, and it is better to use it on the desktop/laptop.
As a huge fan of Apple products, I use a Macbook Pro Air laptop. You don’t have to, as I know they can be expensive. I like them because they don’t get a virus, and they don’t hang/crash easily. There are other laptop brands available, but what do we look for in a laptop?
Some of the things to look for in a laptop:
– A long-lasting and powerful battery
– Lightweight and portable
– Screen size and resolution
2. Choose accommodations with high-speed wifi.
Whether it is a hotel, hostels, Airbnb, or whatever accommodation, make sure they have high-speed wifi. Some hotels only offer free wifi in public areas. That means you will be sitting in the lobby with all the noises, people, and distractions.
If they don’t offer public wifi, consider going to coffee shops, restaurants, or the library.
If you are tight on schedule, you might want to purchase a wi-fi plan from the hotel. Just so you can do your homework and submit them on time.
3. Ensure the course is online only.
Especially during this unprecedented time, most universities now offer full-time online courses. I completed my Master’s degree doing online courses only. Some majors need residency or in-person requirements.
If the degree you’ve chosen requires you to travel to the university every now and then, evaluate your travel budget and schedule. Then plan accordingly.
Nevertheless, if possible, ensure that your major is fully online. And no in-person classes, seminars, or residency is required.
4. Make a study schedule.
Usually, your school or instructors will give you an overview and schedule of a specific course. For example, for me, I take one course every six weeks. Lessons start every Tuesday. The deadline for participation is Thursday midnight, and the deadline for homework is Monday midnight the next week. Another topic/lesson starts on Tuesday. With that, I plan my travels and make a study schedule.
If you are a morning person, study while you alert and before you do your sightseeing and exploring.
If you are an evening person, set a time for your studies before going to bed.
As much as possible, stick to your schedule no matter how tempting it is or how tired you are. Remember you only have to sacrifice for a few months (or years). And the rewards last a lifetime.
So, create a study schedule. Be consistent.
5. Don’t forget Time Zones
I have my schedule at my local time. I know already that my deadline is midnight MST. I just have to calculate or set it at my local time. When I was living in Qatar, my deadline is at 9am the next day. When I travel to the Far East, the time is completely the opposite in the US.
Yeah, it is a bit confusing. That means I can wake up early in the morning to submit my requirements before I start my day. Well, you can still follow the US time zone when submitting homework. Because if you are traveling towards the East, you will still be ahead of schedule. Just work it in your favor.
6. Plan Ahead
Now that you have a study schedule and you know your time zone, you can plan ahead and be organized. Make a habit of planning ahead, so that you can plan your travels and adventures accordingly.
When I was studying, I didn’t book a flight on Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays, and Mondays. I don’t go on a week-long cruise either where there might be areas with no internet connection. So If I need to cram on the requirements, I have internet access to do and submit them. I also do my readings every night before I go to bed.
To stay organized, you can use a physical calendar or Google calendar. You can also use physical planners or planner apps. You can even use Notes.
Refer to your schedule before you start your day. And add things to it as they come so you don’t forget them.
7. Use in-transit times.
Whether you are on a train, plane, or boat, make use of your in-transit time to study, read, or do your assignments.
8. Maintain balance
Keep a balance in your life. Not just between school and traveling. Make sure you are still enjoying life and your time abroad. Eat healthily. Sleep well.
9. Make Connections
While your travels will bring you in touch with all kinds of people, you must try to keep in touch with others in your class. Having a friend can change the entire process for you, as you both keep each other grounded and focus on the task at hand.
Think about all the advantages of having a friend who is studying the same thing as you are. You will have someone you can discuss theories with, have online study groups with, and so much more.
I made three friends from this university. We text each other if there’s something we don’t understand. Or help each other if any of us is stuck. We also share good references to complete our assignments faster. Also, we talk if we want to vent out. LOL. Friends are great, and they can be part of your support system.
On a final note…
These few tips will go a long way when it comes to keeping your eye on the prize. You can have it all with a little planning. You can study and travel at the same time. You can definitely earn a degree while traveling.
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