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Graphic artist hones skills to launch her own business

Cassandra Allen, 45, wanted to earn a degree from a recognized school that would help her advance in her career as a graphic artist. However, working full-time, her schedule wouldn't allow her to attend classes, especially at a school 300 miles from her home. In 2003, she enrolled in a bachelor of science in graphic design program at The Art Institute of Pittsburgh--Online Division. She completed the five-year program online and on time. Now she owns her own graphic design business and is doing well.

Q: What made you choose to study online vs. on campus?

A: I chose to study online because of my professional work schedule at the time. As a project manager and applications specialist for a software design company, my work hours were very demanding and varied from day-to-day. I couldn't commit to on campus courses.

Q: What were the challenges of earning an online graphic arts degree?

A: The challenges of studying online were synchronizing with other students; avoiding sending the wrong signals during online discussions--for example, capital letters signifying anger; avoiding abbreviations; and deciphering grammatical errors in other students' replies. But I was able to overcome these issues with practice.

Another challenge was working on group projects when a member did not meet his or her tasks--catching up to a student who is not interested in a project can be very challenging, using a classroom portal. But I was able to solve this issue, too. When I faced a group communication issue, the other active participants and I discussed it, and then we split the work in other ways to meet goals.

Q: Did you miss the face-to-face interaction with fellow students/ teachers?

A: I did not because I had a strong social network in my personal life that fulfilled face-to-face interactions.

Q: What was the biggest advantage of earning an online graphic arts degree?

A: For me, the best part of studying online was the flexibility built into my schedule. I enjoyed working outside of the box. I was very self-disciplined so it was easy for me to arrange my life to meet the demands of a five-year, 180-credit online graphic arts degree program.

Q: What advice do you have for students considering earning an online graphic arts degree based on your experiences?

A: It is important to choose a school that meets your needs. Make sure you understand the coursework requirements. Ask yourself if you are self-disciplined enough to meet project deadlines--a flexible schedule does not mean open due dates. It takes great organization to successfully study online. Make sure you can meet the requirements for your computer to connect to the online environment. Seek degrees, programs, and certifications that will be recognized by companies that you wish to partner with on projects.

Q: What professional or job placement resources were available to you in the program?

A: The school provided student job placement. I continue to have the opportunity to utilize the online job board. A couple of semesters before graduation, I was in touch with a counselor, who called me on a regular basis with opportunities that might match my goals. I also continue to connect with students, staff and alumni through various networks, allowing us to continue to support each other's goals. I also had a counselor assigned to me throughout the five-year program, someone I could call to discuss my upcoming coursework, any issues I might face, financial concerns, etc. I received huge hardware and software discounts during my stay. I continue to receive discounts through alumni-supporting organizations.

Q: How did your online graphic arts degree help you in your career?

A: My online graphics art degree helped me to gain a larger client base because I honed my talents and skills, while learning an incredible amount of things about smart design. I expanded my skill base and was able to take on more challenging projects, leading to increased pay. I also met a lot of wonderful people. While we could not see each other in real time, most students posted pictures, which added a "human touch," if you will. My confidence in the field of study also increased because I graduated with a 4.0 GPA. I no longer wonder how I ranked with the competition. I am steadily working on projects and have tremendous respect for my artistic abilities. The online degree allowed me to pursue my passion to earn an income through graphic design.