And suddenly, the Internet exploded into a superhighway of information. People began to realize how easy it was to send and receive news, research for study projects, and keep in touch with loved ones. Around the time dial-up took thirty seconds as opposed to three days to connect, my family was finally able to enjoy the soothing sounds of a computer reaching out through the phone lines to link up to the world, which was reminiscent of a fast paced game of pong being played under water projected through the speakers of a fast food drive-up. Even then, the Internet was relatively foreign to me. In school, we were encouraged to use it as a basic tool and to rely on books for facts as the information gleaned from the world wide web was generally untrustworthy. As I became a junior high and high school student, the Internet was a virtual cornucopia of knowledge, yet we were still dissuaded from using it as our only source. I recall researching papers and writing the bibliographies and being told that no more than two references were to be from online sources. Though it was blooming, the Internet was a secondary, if still unreliable, source, and I was still learning how to wade myself through it, to use it to it's full potential.
By the time I entered my first year of college, everything had changed. The Internet was slowly becoming the sole source of information from news to scientific papers to reference materials. Almost 90% of the research for classes was done online. Though my school had a fantastic library, I am ashamed to admit I rarely visited. What was the point? Everything I needed was at my fingertips, and all within easy reach. That bibliography? Mostly Internet sources. Using the Internet intelligently, cross checking facts and ascertaining the sources were reliable, the information could be considered trustworthy. And let's not forget everything could be found on the Internet, and thanks to DSL and wireless, it could be found fast! From registering for classes, to checking grades, to submitting homework, the Internet was integral to my on campus college experience.
Oh, how exciting! What happened next?!
I graduated. And with the advent of social media, I was constantly reminded that I passed over continuing my education and pursuing my dreams in order to live the domestic life. The Internet became a source of "what might have been" and "look what such-in-such is doing with their life" and "oh, hey, look! Another friend going back to school." It was a depression only an endless stream of cat videos could cure.
And then my world fell apart. My loveless marriage ended, and I had two small children and myself to support. I soon discovered a major drawback to living in a small town: no jobs. Or if there are jobs, you have to know someone. The Internet became my source of hope for finding an income. Nail biting day after day, I would search the want-ads, send resumes, go on interviews, and for months never get a call back. I was going gray trying to decide what to do, and I thought about my boyfriend going back to school and taking classes online. I was really excited for him, to the point where I wished it was me...and voila! Like the proverbial bolt of lightning, it struck me: GO BACK TO SCHOOL!
Yay! School! But for what? That question took me back to my earliest passions. What made me happy? Working with animals. What did I originally go to school for? To pursue a career in veterinary medicine. That left me with a conundrum. I wanted to study the veterinary field, but there were no colleges in my area offering those programs and I couldn't move. My only option was an online degree. Off to the Internet with a cup of tea and precious block of time I went, researching schools, comparing curriculum, tuition, graduation rates, and reviews. At one time, I believe there were twelve tabs open across the screen. Eventually, the choice was made, and while I still had the courage, I applied to the Associate's in Veterinary Technology program at St. Petersburg College. The website for the school was constantly open for reference to be sure I satisfied all the requirements to be accepted into the program and to communicate any questions. One of the happiest moments of my life (second to the births of my children, graduating with a bachelor's degree, going to Europe...okay it wasn't necessarily THE happiest moment, but it ranks in the top ten) was receiving my acceptance letter via e-mail!
That's when the work really began. It had been years, nine to be exact, that I had been in school, and I had never taken classes online. In order to adjust my schedule and brain to the student life, I enrolled in two classes on Coursera, a site of over 700 courses taught by accredited institutions and all for free! The classes were composed of video lectures, quizzes, and assignments all dependent on one's personal schedule and pace. Having to once again keep track of homework, "attending" lectures, and studying for tests was great practice for the real thing. Plus, I learned that my aging brain still has the capability of retaining information. Best of all, I remembered how big of a school nerd I am. It's true; I could be a professional student.
The next big role the Internet has played has been a resource for finding scholarships. When I was fresh out of high school and preparing to attend my first year of college, I don't think I worked quite this hard. When you're young, everything magically falls into place for you. Now I'm a grown-up and I have to fend for myself. Thankfully, the Internet has offered numerous opportunities to find the right scholarship for me thanks to sites such as Niche, FastWeb, and ScholarshipPoints, all of which have made the task of narrowing searches and wading through the seemingly endless scholarship offerings more efficient. Though the process is arduous, I cannot imagine how difficult it would be without the Internet helping every step of the way. And those one-click and online applications? Convenience times a thousand and just what the busy single mama needs!
As a distance learner studying a life science, hands-on experience is crucial. A major requirement for the distance veterinary technology degree is an internship during the program to gain that important first hand knowledge. Off to the Internet I went once again to find veterinarians in my area with which to intern with! Though my search didn't last long as there are only four clinics in my area, I was provided with information of the clinic, staff, and locations. I next researched writing a cover letter tailored to each clinic, attached a resume and letter of recommendation, and sent them off to my potential employers. The wait was agony, especially since my attendance hinged on being able to secure clinic hours. What if none responded? All my efforts would be futile. My stress level was at an ultimate high that no amount of Lolcats begging for cheeseburgers could allay, and my fridge had a constant supply of soothing wine thanks to my considerate boyfriend, who frankly deserves a medal for talking me down from the frequent cry-fests and panic attacks I had due to the uncertainty. Relief was thankfully imminent, as I have since been contacted by two vets willing to work with me. Thank. goodness.
Without the incredible tool that is the Internet, I would not be able to finally follow my dreams. There would be no opportunity to continue my education, find funds to finance school, secure an internship, and, most importantly, take classes on my terms as a working single mother. Though there are downsides to the distance program including finding an internship for practical application and missing out on face time with professors, the benefits far outweigh the negatives. The Internet is changing the college education system, making certain programs available to those who might not otherwise be able to attend a brick and mortar campus. In addition, online degrees are less dubious to employers as they once were, being every bit as valuable as a degree earned from sitting in classes all day. It's an amazing time to live in, and I'm excited to be a part of online college life!