How To Master A College Semester Online

Dear Little Sis,

Oh boy, what a crazy time it is right now! It’s currently the Tuesday of what was supposed to be a fun and relaxing spring break at home. Unlike most college students, I didn’t have any spring break plans. I just wanted to be home and spend some time with my family. All of whom were supposed to be either at work or at school. Now I’m sitting here on my spring break with my sister who is home from school for two weeks, and my Dad who is working from home for another month. This isn’t something I had ever planned for, or even saw coming, but here I am.

I am now home until April 5th, which gives me an extra two weeks with my family that I wasn’t planning on having. As excited as I am to be spending time with them, it means I have to conquer this new thing called “distance learning”. I have taken online college classes in the past, and I have succeeded in all of them, but this is entirely different.

Not only are we all trying to adjust to learning in this new way, but different professors are going about things in different ways. Learning at home can bring with it distractions, like my family and let’s be honest, my bed. So how do we adjust to this new way of learning? Is it possible to still have a successful semester online? Absolutely! Here’s a few tips I’ve used in the past to excel in online classes.

1. Stick to your schedule

This is probably the most important tip, and the hardest one to actually stick to. When we’re at the university, we all have a schedule. I go to class from some time to some time, and I’m able to do this every day. So, why should this change when I’m home? Just because there’s no one telling me to be at class at a certain time of the day, doesn’t mean I don’t have to show up and be accountable for my learning. 

Online learning isn’t an excuse for you to not watch the video lectures your professor is posting. This is an opportunity for you to show up to class free of distractions, with your notebook and some headphones. The best advice I can give to ensure that you actually do this, is to stick to your schedule. For example, if I have Physics from 9:05-9:50am on MWF, then I will sit down to learn the required material at this same time. This ensures that I am carving out a specified time every day to get my work done. Don’t lie to yourself and say you’ll do it later. We all know once 10pm hits it’s not going to happen. 

Establish this schedule early and let the people you live with know you’re going to be busy during these times. If you do this, you’ll probably find you actually have more time in your day than you think! 

2. Continue to print materials

I know it can be tempting when you’re home to not print the lecture notes, or to just play the lecture video in the background while you’re having a family game night. The problem is, not paying attention to the lectures will hurt you! I know I’ve said myself that I could probably learn more on my own, and lectures are stupid, but they’re necessary. Even if I don’t think they’re helping me, they are. 

If you were the kind of person who printed lecture notes before class, or even if you typically take notes in class, don’t stop now. I know the environment and style of teaching is different now, but the way that you learn and retain material doesn’t have to change. In all honesty, it shouldn’t change. 

3. Don't change how you study

I know I haven’t really talked too much about college study habits on the blog, but for those of you who have already established habits that work, don’t change them! This semester, I worked really hard to find a routine that works for me. It was extremely frustrating, but I finally found what works! If you’re in the same boat as me, keep up the good work! 

It can be easy to see those exams on the schedule and have hope that they may be easier online. Maybe you think you don’t have to study as hard because you can use your notes. Whatever is going through your mind, stop it. It’s like I said before, you still have control over how well you learn. Prepare for worst case scenario and study as if it was the hardest test you are supposed to take all year. 

4. Let others know you're working

I love my family, but sometimes they just don’t understand I have things to do! When I’m working at home, it can send misleading messages that I’m not actually busy. You know how much work you need to get done on a daily basis, but your family might not. This is especially true because most parents don’t know what a typical college workload looks like. Take some time to let your family know what times during the day you will be unavailable. 

It’s okay to say no to family movie night because you have some studying to do. It’s not that your family doesn’t understand you’re busy, they just want to spend time with you. Politely let them know you have some things you need to get done. 

5. Space is everything

Rule number one of learning from home: DO NOT DO WORK IN YOUR BED! I repeat, do not do work in your bed. You may think this sounds great, but it will only hurt you in the long run. I know the bed is so inviting and how often do you get to go to chemistry lab in your bed? The problem is your brain has learned to associate the bed with sleep. Naturally, this makes working in your bed harder because it will cause you to feel tired. 

To fix this problem, set up a space in your home that can be your new home office for the next few weeks. I decided to take over our dining room. Maybe for you it’s the kitchen table. It doesn’t matter where you decide to set up shop as long as it’s not the bed. Having a designated spot to do work will help your brain understand that it’s go time. When I sit down at the dining room table I know it’s time to get focused. Having this designated spot also tells my family I’m busy. When they see me in there, they know I’m doing work and can’t be bothered. 

6. Take breaks

In between every class I at least have a fifteen minute break. This means when I’m working from home, I can still have this break. Don’t force yourself to sit down and knock out all your classes in three straight hours. Take some time in between each class to go for a short walk, grab a snack, or chat with a family member. Whatever you need to do. Sitting in the same location for four to five hours is hard and it can cause us to lose focus. To avoid this, be sure to carve some time out of your day for you. 

7. Continue to contact your professors

Having class online can make us feel like we’re alone. The most important thing to remember, is you’re not alone in this. Your professors are still the same people they were when you left. Don’t be afraid to ask them questions when you’re confused on material. 

I know office hours don’t really exist anymore, but your professors do. The worst thing you can do for yourself is not get help when you need it. Not only is it important to ask questions, but stay up to date as well. The best way professors can communicate with you is through email. Be sure that you are checking your email daily to see if you have received any important updates from professors. 

Another helpful tip! Professors are learning to adjust to online teaching just as you are adjusting to online learning. It’s important to have patience with them if things aren’t always working. If your lecture video won’t work, or you can’t seem to login to zoom, don’t take that as a free pass. Politely email your professor and let them know the video isn’t working. 

8. Create to-do lists

Not going to class can eliminate the daily reminders from professors to get assignments done. Make sure when you get email updates you write down any important information. Make a list of all the things you have to get done and the due dates. This will help you prioritize your day and accomplish everything you need to on time. This doesn’t have to be a fancy list, just jot some things down on notebook paper if you want!

9. Make group chats

Who else is missing their friends and classmates? I sure am! I think the hardest thing about having class at home is not getting to go to class with my friends. It can be hard to do assignments on my own, and sometimes when I don’t understand what my professor is saying, I’ll ask a friend for help. Being at home shouldn’t stop me from still chatting with my buddies. Start a group chat with friends from class so you can help keep each other accountable. Send a text to get clarification on an assignment, or FaceTime each other to work on homework. Whatever it is you need to do! Socialization is a big human need. This is one of the best ways you can get your fix, while still practicing social distancing. 

10. Don't give up

This is an extremely hard time for everyone. I know for a lot of us, this feels like the end of the semester. It brings with it a lot of sadness and quite honestly sometimes this feeling makes me want to throw in the towel. It’s not the end! Classes are still going on, and the world isn’t ending. 

If you truly want to succeed this semester, then keep working hard. Working from home brings with it new challenges, but it is possible to adapt and maintain success. This is your time to take ownership of your learning. This is something most people will never have to deal with in their lifetime, so show the world what you’ve got. Come out of this with better grades than before. Challenge yourself, and finish the semester the way you want! 

I love you all and I am here to help in any way I can! Feel free to email me with any questions you may have! 

Ashley Ardele


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