Mar 31, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

With the rapid rise in popularity of online programs, it seems like you can just start one anytime. You can. But should you?

Believe it or not, there are better times than others to start online programs.

While online programs aim to offer students more flexibility with the timing of their education, students need to consider when earning an online degree or taking an online course makes the most sense.

Let’s take a closer look at the benefits and drawbacks of studying online in college, when you’re working full-time, as a parent, and if you’re unemployed.

In college

You’re studying anyway—you have your study rhythm, methods, and processes read to go.

If you’re enrolled in traditional college courses, adding an online one to the mix may prove beneficial.

Work your online course into your schedule around your traditional courses.

The key? You need to be organized, keep and maintain a calendar, and know where all your materials are.

Another key to success for taking an online course in college? Keep your workspace consistent. Make sure that where you study and set up your workspace for your online course is the same whenever you work on it—it will feel a lot like “going to class,” even though you’re sitting at home, in the library, or even a coffee shop. Wherever it is, make sure you can concentrate and work productively in your allotted time.

Working full-time

Think that because you work full time you can’t take online courses? Think again.

If you’re working full-time, taking an online course here and there can boost your job prospects and keep you on your game.

When can you work on it? Consider vacation time during the summer or the holidays.

Another possibility? Your commute. If you take public transportation for at least 30 minutes, you can probably find some time to work on that online class.

If your course has any lectures or podcasts that you need to listen to, why not listen while you’re driving?

Maximize those spare minutes. Use your smart phone. Carry flashcards with you everywhere. Every minute counts—and you can squeeze in more than you think if you try.

As a parent

This is a hard one, especially if you’re a working parent. So how do you do it?

You get organized, and you figure out that spaces in your life where you legitimately have time. Don’t sacrifice sleep.

If you work, talk to your boss about having some flexible time, an extra hour here or there in your day can influence your study time.

Don’t take on more than you can handle. Start with one course and see how it feels, while balancing everything else.

Keep a calendar, designate study times, and gain the support of your family as you sally forth. It’s hard. You can do it.

Unemployed

If you’re unemployed, you have some time to think about your career path. While you don’t want this stage to last too long, you can use it to maximize your future prospects.

Keep a daily schedule of when you’re working on your job search and go ahead and take that course.

If there’s something you’ve wanted to try for a while, now’s the time. Sign up. Enroll. Get started. Make sure it doesn’t make an impact on your job search—it should enhance your prospects.

Taking an online course while you’re unemployed also shows you’re serious. Show that you want to improve your situation, you’re curious, and committed to doing better. Taking that online course is a great first step.

Another benefit of taking an online course while unemployed? It’s great for networking. You never know who’ll you meet and what you may be able to offer them—or what they can offer you.

Remember: you’re in charge. If you’re not, take charge. If you want to take the course, take it. Get organized and get going.

Learn more about online studies

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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