How to Network at an Online School
If you're thinking about pursuing a degree online, you're probably excited about the many advantages that online degree programs offer: relatively low cost, a high degree of flexibility, and access to a wide range of program offerings, among others. However, you may also be worried about establishing connections in a virtual classroom. You're probably wondering:
- How do I go about building a network while taking online classes?
- Will I have access to professional networks at online schools?
- How do I make friends at an online school?
These are not uncommon questions, and the information and suggestions provided below are meant to relieve some of your anxiety about networking in an online degree program. If you follow the strategies outlined here, you may find that online schools can provide a network just as fulfilling and robust as those you can make on campus.
Classroom Communication: Join the Conversation
When it comes to any contemporary classroom, students turn to e-mail as a means of staying in touch and asking each other questions about upcoming assignments and exams. The virtual classroom is no exception. When your classmates' contact information is available, you should utilize e-mail to connect online; when the information is not available, your professors may be able to facilitate connections with students upon request. Additionally, virtual classrooms often feature chat rooms as a means of communicating and interacting during class sessions, so be sure to take advantage of this opportunity to connect with fellow students.
Social Networking: Real Connections in Virtual Communities
In the last five years, social networking has developed into a legitimate and convenient means of establishing and cultivating professional relationships. In particular, LinkedIn is widely used by industry professionals across a wide range of fields and business sectors. In addition to allowing you to connect and communicate with classmates and colleagues, LinkedIn facilitates job searches by enabling employers and job-seekers to connect through job listings and resume uploading. They even feature forums where users can ask questions that industry experts can answer, thus providing another means of connecting with other professionals in your field.
Bridging the Gap: From the Chat Room to the Coffee Shop
Part of the convenience of virtual education is the freedom to attend class from the comfort of your own home; however, this shouldn't prevent you from following up with potential professional relationships by arranging to meet your classmates or instructors in person. If you live in the same geographic region as others participating in your online classes, you should feel free to take advantage of the proximity and organize study groups, networking gatherings, or one-on-one coffee meetings to further develop relationships with those involved in your online education. In fact, your online institution may even organize networking events for students in your locale, so be on the lookout for those as well.
If you take advantage of opportunities to build a network and make connections while taking online classes, you can both enrich your online learning experience and set yourself up for professional success as you move beyond your education.