The Experience of a Student Completing an Online Graduate Degree – University Affairs



School experience, cost and lifestyle were top priorities for Sam Luong when he decided to do his masters online.

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought great changes, suffering and loss to our society. We have seen these upheavals give birth to new ways of being and doing. Post-secondary education is no exception. During the final weeks of the spring semester, students got a taste of online learning. So, with at least the fall semester entirely far away at almost every university, what might virtual graduate study look like?

Before the pandemic hit, Sam Luong intentionally chose a graduate program conducted primarily online. He speaks frankly about his experiences and the reasons for this choice.

What graduate program did you enroll in and at which institution?

I enrolled in the online master’s degree in architecture graduate program offered at Lawrence Technological University. Although LTU is located in the state of Michigan, I enrolled in the online program designed for students with a Bachelor of Science degree in Architecture. After two years of full-time commitment to a part-time program, I recently finished.

Sam Luong.

How does an online graduate degree work?

The platform used is called CANVAS, a “Facebook” type website and application, but for academia. We also used Google Drive and Zoom for meetings to make virtual classrooms possible. Almost all of the courses were online except for one onsite course that was taken over a summer semester (for this class, the 40 students met in person in Detroit for a design-build charrette. of a week.)

At first I wasn’t sure about the format, but it worked when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March and classes continued without skipping a beat.

The courses varied enormously. Some classes were held once a week while others were held twice a week for a total of six hours. For the other asynchronous courses (recorded courses), we didn’t see anyone else until the very last presentation. Most classes were offered on weekdays after 5:30 pm This schedule made it easy for me to coordinate school and career schedules.

Another thing worth mentioning is that out of all the 14+ courses I have taken, only one course had an exam. I really enjoyed this setup as it was extremely exhausting studying and working full time, not to mention the pressure that a final exam can have with someone. I like that the program makes heavy use of final projects, which I can add to my academic portfolio, a plus when looking for a job.

What computer equipment and accessories would you recommend that students invest in for a comfortable learning experience?

Getting a powerful gaming laptop is always the safest bet, especially in architecture programs where a lot of computer modeling, rendering, etc. LTU offers student software for rent on loaned laptops. In addition, the teachers at LTU were extremely helpful and willing to guide us whenever we contacted them.

Given the choices of in-person and online architecture graduate programs in Canada and abroad, what prompted you to choose the online format?

I chose the LTU online graduate program for two main reasons. First of all, I chose this program over other physical degrees because it was an accredited degree that I could get in two years. This program is notably recognized by the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, which allows me to start accumulating internship hours.

Compared to a master’s degree in person in Canada, it’s twice as expensive because I was considered an international student. However, this program fits into my professional and personal life routines.

What types of interactions are built into this online graduate program?

Zoom meetings are the fundamental means by which we, the students, engage with the faculty. I like this format because it gives me great flexibility to participate in a class reunion, whether I am at work or at home. I know some architecture students prefer to be there to experience the culture of architecture studios, but that didn’t bother me at all.

In fact, the e-learning format matched my personality. I don’t miss group work in schools. I have had bad experiences working with band members who weren’t doing their part.

What are the challenges and achievements of distance learning?

I was approached by:

  • Management of time
  • Priority between work and school, and
  • Learn how to switch from full-time job (37.5 hours) to part-time studies (another 30 hours +/-). It was extremely difficult to balance these elements. I felt really exhausted after two and a half months of quarter every semester.

Nonetheless, I was motivated by gratitude and accomplishments. I completed the program without having to sacrifice a lot of my routines for the majority of my studies.

How do you motivate or energize yourself given this remote nature of learning?

The secret is to stay organized at the very start of each semester. For example, I looked at the schedule, set all the important dates on the calendar for each class, and then planned the other events in my life around it. I also relied a lot on using Google Drive to organize folders and file structures in advance. It gave me a glimpse of upcoming tasks on all devices due to cloud sharing.

I sometimes found myself reading on a stationary bike or the Stairmaster at the gym! Seriously, when the semester rolls around, you just want to be able to complete your homework and projects as quickly as possible.

Having now earned an undergraduate degree in person and an online college degree, what do you think of their differences and similarities?

Here are a few questions that I thought about:

  • Are you looking to get the full studio experience with other classmates?
  • Are you looking for a more affordable degree and potentially receiving funding?
  • Do you mind changing your lifestyle routine?

School experience, costs and lifestyle preferences were my main parameters of consideration. If I had the chance to choose my option again, I would always choose the online format.

What advice do you have for students who will have their fall semester online?

Stay organized, work hard, focus on the future, and enjoy the process. It goes faster than you think. Most importantly, take some time for yourself and recharge after each semester. At the time, I didn’t think I needed to rest, but I really did.


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