What it takes to pursue a bachelor's degree by following a distance learning program

Back in 2011 when I was 17 years old I started with my studies on ‘senior secondary vocational education’ (MBO). This was the first time I fell in love with technology. The more time I spent on training and certifications, the more exemptions I received from teachers. After getting my diploma, I wanted to start working with all the new technologies in enterprise environments & apply what I learned throughout my certification journey. I started to work at Avanade but always with the dream to pursue my bachelor’s degree. Distance learning was the best option while starting a hectic career in IT consultancy. As a 19 year old, starting a career in IT consultancy is not the easiest job. Especially if it’s your first job in an industry. Most students start working at a small service desk or local IT support but I wanted to put the theory I’ve learned with my 10 certifications into practice. Client projects can be stressful with very strict deadlines. In such a position as a young IT consultant, I felt like I had to prove myself in order to be able to get the best results for the client.

Distance learning

After working on projects for 6 months, I learned that I needed a flexible Bachelor’s study program to be able to align school assignments with a hectic career. Distance learning was the perfect option, because I could slow down the pace during stressful moments and speed it up when a project is going well. The second benefit is that I don’t have to travel to a specific location. I’ve had projects in cities like Amsterdam, Utrecht, Amersfoort, The Hague and Hoofddorp. Commute mostly takes around 1 to 4 hours per day. Adding up one or two hours of commute to a university is not an option. In the Netherlands, there are a couple of universities like LOI and NCOI, that provide distance learning options for bachelor studies in information technology. Both study programs have an internationally recognized accreditation from the NVAO and the Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science. This accreditation from the NVAO was very important to me. I applied for the 4-year “Technische Informatica” bachelor studies at the LOI.

Whatever it takes

The amount of dedication required to complete a Bachelor’s study program based on distance learning is enormous. Nobody is going to get in touch with you when you don’t make any progress. You’re on your own. You have to do it yourself. The only feedback you will get is from the teachers ‘sitting behind the portal’. You will get a short chat with a coach, but that’s about it. There won’t be a recurring meeting with your coach. It would have been nice to be able to speak with teachers on the phone or a FaceTime call. Especially when you want some clarification on a statement of a teacher. Several people asked me what it takes to do this study program. I tend to ask the following question back: “what are you able to sacrifice?” If you want to complete the study program within 4 to 5 years, you have to take sacrifices. This means you won’t be able to go to lots of parties or have drink with friends that often. You won’t be able to binge-watch Netflix series often or participate in several sports. The resistance to study is high when there are so many fun things to do.

Time management

If you want to both work and study, you have to carefully manage your time. If you have to drive to work instead of taking the train, the last thing you want is to lose valuable time in traffic jam and increased fatigue. Use the time in the early morning to study or go home directly after work. My regular schedule roughly looked like this:

  • 05:15 - Wake up
  • 06:00 - 07:00 - Commute
  • 07:00 - 16:00 - Work
  • 16:00 - 17:00 - Commute
  • 17:30 - Dinner
  • 18:00 - Study & rest till bedtime
  • 21:00 - Bedtime

Consistency & rhythm is key, so I also woke up at 05:15 on Saturday and Sunday. Based on how I felt in the weekend, I studied a full day and took rest the other day.

Completing the journey

The study programs of the LOI are very affordable. You will see the drawbacks of this very quickly. The theory is often not aligned with exams and forces you to take the exam several times and learn from the mistakes. Several students I know stopped with the study program within the first two years. Also the customer service isn’t very responsive to say the least. As an example, it took the university 6 months (!) to schedule my thesis defense presentation after my thesis was finalized. The only thing I could do is call the customer service on a weekly or daily basis, wait in the call queue for 30 minutes to hear that I had to wait for another week. During the thesis defense presentation, the examiner told me that only 10 percent of the students completes a study program at this university. I assume this is due to the dedication required to both survive the study program but also deal with the drawbacks of a university with only affordable study programs.

Bachelor of Science

I’m proud to say that I successfully defended my thesis about Privileged Identity & Access Management and therefore received my diploma recently. As I have access to Master degree programs, I’m looking forward to see what the future holds.