As a student, I’ve been told that going to college is a great opportunity to broaden my horizons. I saw a lot of options for in-person schools and classes, but because I was working full-time as a cake decorator (and driving over 45 minutes to get to and from work every day), I decided that an online option made the most sense for me.
Starting out, I had to figure out a lot on my own and have gone through more than my fair share of life changes along the way. However, now that I’ve been going to college online for well over a year, I realize that the support I could have benefitted from most was hearing advice from another student. That’s why I’ve decided to write down some of my biggest tips and tricks for setting yourself up for success before you step foot into the virtual classroom!
3 Tips to Hit the Ground Running When Starting Online Classes
1. Staying Organized is a Necessity
When you’re looking into taking classes with any online program, having a system that works for you can make all of the difference. As students, we’re responsible for keeping track of our assignments, notes, papers, and exams to make sure we’re on track - and let’s be honest, it can be overwhelming if you’re not prepared.
In my experience, the best thing you can do for yourself as an online student is to create a place to keep all of your notes and assignments well-organized.
Thankfully we live in a time where there are plenty of free online tools, and because college students shouldn’t gatekeep, I want to share some of my favorite platforms with you! Using free tools like Google Drive and Notion helped me keep everything in one place. Google Drive is a web-based platform that allows students to make and share documents for papers, notes, and other assignments. It’s a great tool that I use every day for classes, and the best part is that it’s free to use for up to 15 GB of memory. Notion, on the other hand, is another web-based tool that I love to use, and it has built-in capabilities to create anything you might need. This is my organizing secret weapon for to-do lists, assignment tabs, and entire class pages centered on my notes. Plus, it’s easy to customize, so you can make your Notion space however you want.
What I like about being a Campus student in the online business program is that their platform, Campuswire, organizes assignments (in order by when they’re due!) and lecture recordings, and it also has a calendar feature that shows classes and exams all in one place.
2. Establish a Routine and Stick to It
Creating a routine can help you pace yourself and make sure you’re on track, not just with your coursework but with all of your other responsibilities, too. Whether you work full-time or part-time, take care of family members, or have any other number of roles outside of being a student, creating a blocked schedule or plan can help you avoid burnout.
We’ve all had moments as students where we’ve either tried to tackle everything all at once in the beginning or - more likely - waited until the last minute, but establishing a routine is a great method for checking in with yourself. Some programs will have a consistent online meeting time that you can schedule around throughout your week, like Campus, while others may be in a “go at your own pace” style of online learning. In either case, I would highly recommend taking the time to make your own schedule because it can help make sure you’re staying on track - and it can help you develop time-management skills.
3. Create Your Own Study Space
Sometimes studying from your bed can be a little bit distracting, even if it is really comfortable. After having accidentally fallen asleep during class (never again!), I've found that creating your own separate study space can make focusing on classes and coursework a lot easier.
Every student has their unique approach to making a study space that’s best for them. Whether it’s an actual desk set-up or a spot at your kitchen table, having a place to call your own for school can make life a lot easier. It’s a good idea to separate your place of work from your place of leisure.
Plus, because you’re learning from home, you’re able to do whatever makes your study space comfortable. At the end of the day, so long as you’ve created an environment where you feel like you can focus, you’ll feel much better about your classes, I promise.
Main Takeaway: Find a System That Works Best for You
Attending an online community college can come with its own challenges, but taking the time to start your first term right can make balancing life and school a little bit easier. Every student has their own workflow and balances that they like to maintain, and small tips like these are a great way to start finding the system that suits you most.
Whether you’re preparing for your first online class or your last, my hope is that these tips will give you the tools you need to rock this semester (or quarter) the way I know you can!