Online Student Challenges


Completing degrees online provides students with more flexibility and independence. However, there are also several challenges associated with being an online student. Online students tend to be less engaged and connected; therefore they are often retained at a lesser rate. It is also more challenging for students to attain socioemotional support and resources when they are not physically present on a campus.

Mentorship for Online Students

Engagement and sense of belonging to the university are indicators of persistence and completion. One way to build engagement and connection to the university for online students is by forging social relationships. Students connected to one another develop a sense of belonging and community that helps them feel further connected to their institution. Online students are already accustomed to turning to online platforms for their degree completion, making it even easier to create an online community through peer mentorship.

shearwater and online students

Shearwater partners with universities to help provide personalized support to graduate students at scale.

  • Common reasons that pairs are matched include having the same area of academic focus, career goals, or life experiences, like whether they have children. 
  • Common topics of discussion include balancing work, school, and family, building a sense of belonging as an online student, and career development. 
  • Common modes of communication among pairs include text-messaging, videochat, emailing.

large research university and Shearwater

The program had the following outcomes:

  • After 3 months, participants had on average 6-8 interactions.

  • Student acclimation increased by 13% between sessions.

  • In 96% of sessions, mentors report enjoying or strongly enjoying their experience as a mentor.

  • The school reported a "clear and immediate impact on retention."

The School of Professional Studies at a large research university in the Northeast partners with Shearwater to support about 5,000 undergraduate and graduate adult learners through peer mentorship. The focus of the program is on persistence and student success. Both current students and alumni participate as mentors.

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