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The Advantages of a Cohort Program

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As I approach my graduation in May in which I will earn my second Masters Degree – a Masters in Education (M.Ed.) from Northern Arizona University. I have the time and inclination to reflect on what went right with this degree, and what could have been better. As my father used to say, “Stephanie, hindsight is 20/20.”

The Cohort Experience: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

First of all, what is cohort learning, exactly? Simply speaking, cohort learning is when a relatively small group of students – usually between 12 and 25 – start and finish their degree together. The learning may take place in a traditional format, online format, or a hybrid of the two. Even though students benefit from the cohort benefit in any one of these scenarios, this program structure may hold the most benefits in the online platform as that is where students typically hunger for the camaraderie that a cohort situation offers.

Some of the major benefits of cohort programs include:

  • Students know at the beginning of a program exactly when their program of study will end
  • Strong cohort programs will usually have strong cohort administrators. This is necessary in order to organize and keep everything on track as the students of that particular cohort move (hopefully seamlessly) through the program.
  • Students know when they will take classes, with whom. Cohort classes are usually pre-planned. No searching through registration booklets and websites trying to find the class that you need!
  • Cohort programs offer community building and collaboration opportunities.
  • Students build relationships with people who have similar goals.
  • Networking opportunities are created among students with similar goals.

The possible “positives” of cohort programs may also be possible “negatives,” depending on how you view the situation, and your specific academic and lifestyle needs. These include:

  • A pre-set list of classes, dates, times, and places. Cohort students proceed in lock-step with one another, which can be good for many, but if you fall out of step you risk your future in the entire program. This happened to me due to some unforeseen family health issues and I had to do some fancy footwork in order to graduate with my class.
  • A strong cohort administrator. Because this person’s main objective is to keep the cohort running smoothly, you will run up against opposition if you are in need of much (or any) flexibility during the cohort program.

A cohort program of study can be the best way to roll if you are someone who needs to have definite parameters, and if you can work within these parameters. This quickest, most organized way to a degree is usually the best option for most people. To quote one of my college students who is in her 70’s, “Just get her done!”


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