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How to build confidence as an online student

Text on image: Turn self-doubt into confidence while learning online.

An Oregon State graduate shares advice on learning to believe in your ability to succeed

By Monique Lanier

Going back to school as an adult online learner was scary for me. I had tried college before, and for a number of reasons — some of them beyond my control — I never finished. It was a deep regret and a loss I carried for years. I did my best to make peace with it and went about making other plans.

But as adults, we know plans don’t always work out. This isn’t always a bad thing; a lot of the time things eventually turn out to be even better than our original plan.

That was true for me and, amazingly, I found myself as an student learning online with Oregon State University. Here I was with another chance to finish college, and I wasn’t about to let the opportunity slip by me again.

It’s OK to ask questions — even some weird ones

Still, I was nervous. I was older with some physical challenges, and I hadn’t been in a classroom — in person or online — for years. I was intimidated by the online platform and everything else that comes with going back to school as an adult.

There were all kinds of questions racing through my head.

Do students still use paper? Do they still raise their hand to ask a question, and how do you raise your hand online? What if I’m the oldest person there, and what if I’m older than the instructor, and what if people think I’m someone’s mom? Should I use the word “slay” when I’m talking?

Probably not.

Clearly, confidence was not in my “bag of tricks” — or my “cyberspace backpack.” I had no idea how to do it or even if I could do it.

Thankfully, I chose Oregon State Ecampus.

Tap into the expertise of a student success coach

Many colleges and universities lack adequate support and resources for their nontraditional students. This is not the case at Oregon State Ecampus. I was fully supported. My instructors were available from the start, and I had a student success coach.

I had never heard of a “success coach” in academia, and I thought I might be too old for something like that. I also have to admit, since I’ve always been very independent, I had a sneaking suspicion I was probably too cool for this “success coach” thing. But I wanted to be successful in school more than I wanted to figure things out on my own, so I met with him every week until I had a solid understanding of what online learning entailed.

It made all the difference.

Embrace your support system — success is a team effort

When I look back to see exactly how I went from a very nervous student to one who knew she belonged, it’s clear I did not make that transformation happen by myself. Building confidence was not a solo endeavor; it was a team effort. Faculty and staff were always ready to meet me more than halfway. In order for me to make strides in feeling capable and positive, I had to participate in this team sport by reaching out to my professors and ask questions when I didn’t know things — and I didn’t know anything.

I also had to let the positive feedback I received sink in.

I reached out to my peers as well, even though I was often older than them and this sometimes made me feel awkward. But I really wanted college to work this time so I gave myself the best chance possible. I knew I would do better if I felt more comfortable in the classroom, and knowing a few of my peers would help me feel more comfortable.

I would ask them things like, “Hello, how did that paper go?” and “Did you understand that problem?” and “Do you know when that assignment is due?” and “Cartesian duality?!? Gag me with a spoon!”

Celebrate the small wins. They add up to something big.

Confidence grows from gathered moments; it rarely announces itself in a mighty blaze of glory. It comes from that great comment on a paper, or the sheer grit it takes to pass a test when it all seemed so pointless. It’s getting up and making that phone call to iron out institutional red-tape. It’s acknowledging the amazing insight of your fellow classmate because you’ve noticed they’ve seemed discouraged. Small things over time lead to a solid sense of self-assurance.

The way to build confidence is to do things you are proud of.

My confidence builds when I participate. As a person who has been painfully insecure and has imposter syndrome just like everyone else, I’ve realized my confidence increases when I increase my participation, and it diminishes when I diminish my contributions. So, I keep showing up and, moment by moment, I realize am a not the same person I was when I started this journey.

I had no idea how college was going to work out, but it most certainly has. It works because I keep working.

The reward of education lasts forever

I was talking to a friend the other day, and I shared with her a recently discovered feeling now that I have graduated with my master’s degree from Harvard. I realized this accomplishment is something I will never lose. I might lose my home, my possessions, but my education is mine. This is a confidence I didn’t know was possible.

When I returned to college as an adult online learner years ago, I didn’t know if I could do it. Happily, things have turned out to be even better than my original plan.

You got this.

Monique Lanier is a freelancer who also has a long history in writing, acting and music as a writer and performer. She earned her Oregon State University bachelor’s degree online and a master’s degree in theological studies from Harvard University. She is now pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing with a focus on poetry at Oregon State.

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