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How to Succeed in a Self-Paced Certificate Program
How to Succeed in a Self-Paced Certificate Program

The traditional classroom provides an unquestionably excellent learning environment. But, as we all know, in-class learning is not always possible.

That’s why the educators at UW’s Professional & Continuing Education developed the self-paced format for several certificate programs: so students can learn where they live, at their own pace, while still receiving a world-class education from the University of Washington.

Whether you want to study business, data, programming or communication, we have programs that empower you to learn at your own speed and quickly give your career a boost from the comfort of your own sofa.

Does an independent, self-directed and self-paced learning format sound like your style? We spoke with a few experts to get their tips on how you can determine if it’s the right fit for you — and how you can thrive once you’ve started.

Know Your Learning Style

Let’s say you’re keen to level up at work or pivot professionally, and you want to complete a certificate as soon as possible — which led you to a UW self-paced certificate.

Though the speed of completion may be appealing, be honest about what type of learner you are before you begin: Are you self-motivated and self-directed? Or do you need in-class discussions and interactions with instructors and classmates to stay motivated?

It’s important to know your own learning style before you begin, according to Karen Duvall, a student support specialist in UW Professional & Continuing Education’s Enrollment Services department. Student support specialists offer guidance, information and resources to help certificate students complete their programs and have a positive experience.

“Learners need to assess their needs and how they learn best,” Karen said. “They should ask themselves if they can get what they need from learning on their own without a cohort of students for support. Online learning is very independent.”

Keep a Schedule

Because you technically have two years to finish a self-paced certificate program, it can often feel like there’s no rush. But each course must be completed within four months of registration, so be careful: if you don’t maintain a rigid schedule, time will fly.

“It’s common for students to underestimate how challenging it can be to juggle life’s many obligations,” said Kristen Kollgaard, an enrollment coach with Enrollment Services. “Making coursework a priority and creating a regular homework schedule is the key to success with the self-paced format.”

Franz Von Hirschmann, a former Boeing analyst who’s worked extensively in transportation, philanthropy and technology, began taking the self-paced Certificate in Project Management in the fall of 2019.

Adhering to a strict schedule has been the difference between success and failure for Franz in his self-paced program.

“After I began last fall, I quickly realized that if I didn’t lay out a plan on how to learn and to pace myself, the program would get lost in the shuffle,” he said.

Franz landed on a straightforward and effective schedule: he devotes himself to coursework each Monday through Friday morning from nine to noon — no exceptions. That gives him Saturday and Sunday to tie up any loose ends or finish what he couldn’t during the week.

The key to his schedule, Franz said, is drowning out the distractions: “From nine to noon, I don’t answer the phone. I don’t answer the doorbell. I study.”

Stay Disciplined

Starting a schedule is of course much different than sticking to one; as important as it is to keep a schedule, it’s more important to actually adhere to it.

“The danger is getting sidetracked by a bookmark or tab you have open on Google Chrome,” Franz said with a laugh. “I’ve fallen victim to it, but I learned I just have to be painfully disciplined to stick with it.”

Karen Duvall said that, in her experience supporting self-paced students, students who can stick to their schedules enjoy the most success.

“The number-one challenge of the self-paced program is time management,” Karen said. “Life gets in the way — work, family, travel, distractions. Successful self-paced learners are highly motivated, independent and have excellent time-management skills.”

Use Your Network

Though self-paced programs do require students to be independent, that doesn’t mean you’re all on your own. Each self-paced course has its own online message board, the Water Cooler, that allows students to ask questions, get answers and discuss class topics with their instructor and instructional aide. 

Enrollment Services student support specialists like Karen are also available to help students like Franz as they navigate the world of self-paced education.

“Self-paced online learning can feel a little isolating,” Karen said. “Having support from your team and enrollment services can bring a sense of community in an otherwise very independent format.”

Though it’s required a strict schedule and a high level of discipline, Franz has found the self-paced Certificate in Project Management fulfilling and edifying — and the right way to reenter the job market with a coveted credential.

“The program is wonderful — it’s really structured for students’ success,” he said. “It’s really a logical sequence that builds one session upon the other. It’s a much more intelligent, much more self-reinforcing learning experience. Going through the certificate program opens so many new doors and avenues to find a new and improved job.”

Explore our self-paced certificate programs or contact an enrollment coach to learn more about our various learning formats, including self-paced.  


For more success stories from UW Professional & Continuing Education, visit the News & Features section of our website. To learn more about our certificates, degrees and courses, explore your options or contact us.


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