There are many advantages to taking online courses. For one thing, you have far more flexibility in terms of your class schedule, your workspace, and even your outfit. You can take courses at your own pace and knock out assignments from your favorite Papasan chair, all while wearing a good ol’ oversized hoodie. On the other hand, online college can be surprisingly challenging. If you’re not used to virtual learning, you may be wondering: How does online college work? Why do you suddenly have zero motivation to do the work? And, more importantly, what can you do to set yourself up for success?
Whether you’re about to start your first semester of an online college or you’re currently struggling to learn in a virtual environment, here are some helpful tips for adapting to life as an online student.
1 Figure Out Your Learning Style
One thing that all successful students do right off the bat — but never talk about — is identifying their learning style. For example, do you work better when you sit at a desk, or do you have an easier time focusing when you’re relaxing on the couch? Do you need to work in total silence, or does having white noise help you concentrate? (You should seriously consider using a fan for background noise. It’s a total game-changer.) When it comes to learning styles, everyone is different. Figure out what works best for you and you’ll find it much easier to focus during class.
2 Keep Your Workload Manageable
Some students mistakenly believe that online courses are easy, which leads them to take on more credits than they can actually handle. Even if a course isn’t particularly challenging, keep in mind that you’re also potentially contending with other factors, such as lack of motivation due to virtual learning. To avoid feeling overwhelmed mid-semester, consider lightening your load a bit. Many colleges have a grace period that allows you to drop a class without being penalized for it. One thing to be careful of, though, is that dropping courses could potentially affect your federal financial aid and college scholarships. It’s always a good idea to talk with your career advisor before you withdraw from any class.
3 Build Relationships with Your Professors
Get to know your professors. We seriously can’t stress this enough. Your professors can be a major asset to you in many different ways, from helping you find internships to dishing out valuable career advice.
If you’re struggling with online coursework, your professors may be able to ease some of the burdens of online learning. For instance, they may be willing to record their Zoom sessions so you can pause and rewind them, or send you their presentation notes after the lecture. Start building your relationship by introducing yourself before class and taking advantage of their virtual office hours.
4 Find Ways to Connect with Classmates
On a related note, don’t be afraid to reach out and connect with your online classmates. Some ways you can do this include engaging with your classmates one-on-one, starting a virtual study group, and being an active participant in the class.
Some college classes also have Discord groups, which can be a fantastic way to make friends, expand your network, and study for class. Discord is broken up into channels known as “servers,” which are invite-only spaces. You can use these servers to interact with your classmates and professor via text, voice chat, and the occasional gif or image.
5 Stick to a Routine
In addition to taking online classes, many college students have other responsibilities, like working a part-time job and taking care of a family. Whether you’re taking classes online, in-person, or a hybrid of the two, having good time management skills is key to juggling all your daily responsibilities. To stay on top of it all, start planning out your days. Block out time for watching lectures, studying, and other student engagements. Don’t forget to carve out time for healthy activities, too, such as exercise, meditation, and calling your family or friends.
6 Block Online Distractions
You know how it goes. One minute, you’re doing research on the internet for a class project, and the next minute, you’re watching music videos on YouTube. It’s all too easy to get sucked into your familiar haunts on the internet and fall victim to procrastination.
The solution? Remove your biggest temptations. If your biggest time suck is YouTube, delete it from your favorite bookmarks. Take it one step further by using productivity apps, like Freedom or StayFocusd, to block access to your favorite websites. By eliminating online distractions, you’ll get more work done in less time by staying focused on the task at hand.
7 Balance School Work with Virtual Activities
If you’re a traditional student (i.e., someone under age 25), you might feel like you’re missing out on the traditional college experience, such as Greek life and extracurricular activities. But you don’t need to forfeit those things — not entirely, anyway.
Since moving to virtual instruction, many colleges and universities have stepped up their game and have adapted many traditional college experiences to the virtual world. For instance, Greek recruitment is happening online, and many colleges are holding virtual club fairs to introduce student clubs and organizations to online students. Remember to check your student email regularly for invitations to virtual events and activities. At the very least, these virtual events provide a much-needed break from your studies.
Making the Most of Online College
At the end of the day, online college is what you make of it. By being an active participant in class, getting to know your professors, and utilizing every resource at your disposal, you can maximize the benefits of online learning and set yourself up for success.