WANTED: ADULT ONLINE WARRIORS                                   by JOANNE MACKAY-BENNETT

originally published in the 2015 Spring Issue

 When you make the decision to go to school as an adult, you do it from a unique set of circumstances. One person may have dropped out from earlier studies in order to raise a family; another may learn that getting ahead in his or her workplace requires upgrading; still another may happily seize the opportunity to delve into a new area of study once retirement has freed up the time to do so.


Indeed, the very term, ‘continuing education,’ implies a break of some sort from the traditional, sequential path that leads from high school to post-secondary studies.  


Choosing a course, registering and submitting Ontario Student Assistance Program (OSAP) forms are all generally done online but computer systems are not generally geared to accommodate the varied and unique circumstances that adult learners bring to the process of online registration.


What follows is a cautionary tale. It is based on several conversations I had with an adult student who is half-way through her coursework for an undergraduate degree. While her experience is her own, readers will no doubt recognize the blinding frustration that can take over when you happily set out to register … and end up wanting to heave your computer out the window. We’ve all been there!


When Susanna (not her real name), decided to register for full-time study at a university this term, she was encouraged to switch her previously-accumulated credits to a university that was located closer to where she lives. Universities are often partnered with other universities or colleges and in Susanna’s case, one of her university’s partners was within a 20-minute bus ride from her home. Makes sense, right?


During her first face-to-face visit with an admissions counselor in the Fall, Susanna was assured that the transfer was possible. She was given forms to fill in and submit (either in person or online). After figuring out which courses to take, she returned for a second face-to-face visit with a counselor, hoping to expedite the registration procedure.


This time, Susanna was told that to complete her registration, she needed to go across campus where the office for her department was located. She waited in line for her turn to speak to an advisor, explained her situation, and was told that her specific program was not eligible for transfer.


Undaunted (Susanna is not easily discouraged), she decided to forget transferring and to register at her original university. She searched the list of available online courses, selected two, applied to OSAP and sent in the requisite financial forms. All good? Not so fast!


When she went online to register, she discovered that the site with her student file had been blocked. Since there was no explanation given, other than the word, ‘ERROR’, Susanna called a student advisor to get to the bottom of the problem. She was told that the university had not received her OSAP forms. When she informed the advisor that everything required had indeed been sent in, he suggested that she try to trace the money, herself, by contacting the bank and the university. Right.


At that point, Susanna was starting to feel her blood pressure rise but she carried on. As I said, she has the courage of a warrior.


Several phone calls later, and with some much-appreciated help, the financial aid mixup was straightened out. Signing in to complete the registration process, and to finally claim victory, Susanna discovered that she was too late to register in the two courses that she had originally chosen because one of them was now full.


“Never mind!” she repeated to herself. “I’ll just register for one course.” She did that … and then, like a recurring nightmare, the ghost of ‘OSAP past’ reappeared. Having registered for only one course, and therefore now considered a part-time rather than a full-time student, her original OSAP application was no longer valid.


Last time I saw Susanna, she was at the library making a photocopy of her OSAP application so that she could fax it in. The photocopier was flashing ‘Refill Paper Tray.” She went downstairs and found another one. She faxed it in.


Seven Lessons Learned:

  1. Start the registration process early, including OSAP applications. Complications are triply frustrating when a deadline is looming. 
  2. If you can arrange a face-to-face appointment, try to go with someone who has been through the process.
  3. If you want to transfer credits from one post-secondary institution to another, ask up front if your program is one that allows credits to be transferred
  4. When you are registering online, make sure to fill in all the boxes. Computers know two words: ‘Accept’ and ‘Reject’.
  5. Go over application. Clarify anything that needs clarifying with a phone call before submitting.
  6. Double-check before clicking ‘Send.’
  7. Never give up.

Be an online warrior. You will always come out the winner!

Toronto, Canada