A Gator’s Perspective: A Military Spouse’s UF Online Experience

A Gator's Perspective.

Now, more than ever, online learning has made earning a bachelor’s degree possible from anywhere in the world. For Tori French, a UF Public Relations Alum, the idea of finishing her bachelor’s while living in Europe was not on her agenda when first starting classes as a residential student at the University of Florida. However, Tori’s plans changed when she married her husband who serves in the military and is currently stationed in Italy.

Tori enrolled in UF Online with an open mind and was impressed by how seamless the transition was from her in-person classes to her online classes. As an online student, Tori was always connected to her fellow Gators by getting involved in multiple UF organizations, including serving as a UF Online Student Ambassador.

In this edition of “A Gator’s Perspective,” Tori shares her experience transferring to UF Online, getting involved as an online student, and moving to a different country as a military spouse while continuing her studies. Take it away, Tori!

MY EXPERIENCE BEING AN ONLINE STUDENT LIVING 5000 MILES FROM CAMPUS

Written By: Tori French, B.S. Public Relations, Alum

I used to hate online classes. When I was in high school, I had to take geometry online because I needed to be in Algebra 2 by sophomore year to adhere to the requirements of the program that I was in. After that, I basically decided that I never wanted to take another class online again. That is – until I got to the University of Florida.

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I entered the UF residential program as a first-generation freshman through the AIM (Assisting students Improving skills Maximizing potential) program, now known as UF PROMISE. I wanted the classic college experience: dorm, meal plan, organizations, and everything else that characterizes a freshman year. But I also had to work part-time. Then, in the fall, I started interning at the Cade Museum for Creativity and Invention on top of my 20-hours-a-week gig at Chipotle. It was a lot. I quickly realized that my schedule was filling up, and that the best way to make sure I had the flexibility I needed was to take as many online/hybrid courses as I could.

So, I did, and little did I know that these micro-decisions were setting the groundwork for me to succeed in a completely online format when I transferred to UF Online in the Fall of 2020 in preparation for my move to Italy. It just so happened that at the same time I transferred to a fully-online program, the whole world did, too, which in a way made the transition even easier.

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In the middle of my sophomore year, I married my high school sweetheart who works for the Air Force and is stationed in Italy. It was then that I began preparing to transfer my public relations degree to UF Online’s PR degree program so I could move to Europe with him and finish my degree a year early, like I had planned. While transitioning to the fully-online PR program was easy – all the classes felt the same, the lessons were structured the same and the degree requirements never changed – I ended up stuck in Florida for an extra seven months in which I was supposed to be in Italy because of the COVID-19 pandemic and travel restrictions. In the chaos of that whole situation – in the waiting for visa approval, in the days of travel required to pick up visa and passport materials at the nearest Air Force base, and in the knowledge that I could be told to book a plane ticket at any time – I was comforted by the fact that I could do my classwork anywhere there was WiFi.

In those seven months in which nothing felt certain, I knew that I could still say, “No matter what, I will graduate in the spring because of the flexibility that UF Online has given me.” It was this flexibility that gave me the room to fully engage in my increasingly complex personal life when I needed to while also not sacrificing my academic rigor or accomplishments.

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Finally, when I did actually reach Italy this past January, I saw a whole new world of UF Online from a different time zone. While I could not escape the occasional 6 p.m. or 12 a.m. Zoom call for one of my organizations, which proved to me that distance options for organizational involvement have become more broadly available to online students, the rest of my course work could easily be scheduled to fit Italian time. I eventually got into a habit of making coffee, sitting in my favorite yellow chair and doing schoolwork in the morning; running errands in the afternoon; and then hopping on video calls in the evening.

While this schedule was intense at times, it was more than manageable, and I was so grateful that I was able to stay connected to my UF community while also getting so much life experience living abroad. I am even going to begin taking an immersive Italian class soon!

Because I finished my degree through the UF Online program, I was able to complete the UF Honors College Medallion program, earn the International Scholars’ Medallion through the UF International Center, and graduate Summa Cum Laude a year earlier than my original graduation date.

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Each of these accomplishments would not have been within my reach had UF Online not been there when I needed it, and I think that online education is an incredible opportunity for individuals like myself in the military spouse community. Our lives are constantly on the cusp of change – whether it’s a move, a deployment, a child, a family emergency, or any other life-altering moment. One of the most important things we need is flexibility without the sacrifice of quality. In UF Online, I found my flexibility, quality and opportunity.

Now, my sincere hope is that online learning, especially that from my alma mater, will be recognized by an increasingly virtual world as a prime option for education. The idea of the traditional college experience that I wanted my freshman year still works for some, but for many it is an antiquated version of higher education that maybe was never in their reach in the first place. I let go of my emphasis on tradition and replaced it with a desire for accessibility, reliability and progress.

If you are part of the military community and would like to learn more about applying with military benefits, please visit our military admissions page or register for one of our upcoming virtual information sessions.

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The University of Florida, ranked No. 6 in the list of top 10 best public universities by U.S. News & World Report, launched UF Online in January 2014. UF Online was ranked No. 3 in the 2021 rankings for the best online bachelor’s programs in the country by U.S. News & World Report. Students can select from 25 major pathways across a variety of disciplines as well as nine minors and work with a dedicated academic advisor to design their own academic pathway. Degree programs are continually being added. Visit UF Online’s degrees page to learn more.