Tips for Online Classes: How to Get a 4.0

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This semester is some uncharted territory… sort of. Although we received a taste of online classes during the last half of last semester, I think a lot of college students would agree with me when I say that I thought they felt less than fulfilling. But we can’t really blame anyone. Everything was uncertain and no one knew what was going on. But this semester is different. Professors have been training and preparing all summer to make online classes legit. And, odds are, harder than in-person classes in a number of ways. Between balancing asynchronous components of class and finding a space in your home where you can concentrate, online classes perhaps add a layer of stress that in-person classes eliminate. So, here are my best tips for online classes that give you the ability to succeed and even get a 4.0:

Communicate With Your Professors

Communicating with your professors is definitely the most important out of all my tips for online classes. That’s because everyone’s environment is different. It’s imperative that you let your professor know up front about any challenges you might have over the course of the semester. Whether it’s difficult for you to find a quiet spot in your house, you have bad wifi connection, or you’re in a different timezone, these are all important for your professor to know sooner rather than later. Fortunately I think professors anticipate these obstacles for their students, but they won’t know about them until you tell them.

“Go” To Class

Sometimes it can be difficult to get motivated to go to class in person. Now it’s even harder to do so when classes are online. Especially when a camera isn’t required and it’s a lecture-based class, I know the struggle. Even if you’re tuned in to the call, it’s easy to zone out or do something else. This might be the hardest tip of all and the one I struggled with the most last semester. However, I guarantee that you’ll be better for it. Often times attendance is the only requirement for a participation grade. It’s important that you don’t just throw away the easy points.

The best way I stay focused during an online lecture is to actually sit at a desk or table. Try as hard as you can to stay away from your bed or the couch. Additionally, try to take hard-copy paper notes. That way, you’ll have a reason to stay focused and your hands are too busy to scroll through Facebook or online shop instead.

Set a Routine

This is one of the the oldest tips for online classes in the book. I have my routine when I’m on campus that keeps me productive. That’s why its super important to try to carry that same routine over to online classes at home. And yes, while I can’t walk to Dunkin’ and then sit in the library at home, I can try to recreate something similar.

Time-blocking is one of my favorite methods to hold myself accountable to sticking to a routine. Using a calendar (I prefer Google’s), block off certain amounts of time each day for different tasks. For example, make sure you’re waking up at the same time, doing homework at the same time, etc. Once your routine becomes second nature, finding motivation to do work gets easier. is also a great (free!) website to track productivity and other personal tasks.

In my first online class, my professor told a story about a student who would set up different corners of her room for different classes. She would only take one class in each space, modeling different “class rooms.” Another of his students would take some time outside in between classes to simulate walking between campus buildings. It might sound funny, but honestly finding what works for you is so important, regardless of what that looks like.

Set Boundaries With Your Family

Last semester, my family sometimes forgot that I was still a full time student even though I was home. Sometimes they wanted me to run errands for them, complete household tasks, join the rest of the family for dinner, etc. while I was in class or doing work. And while your family knows you’re in class, they will forget that you’re doing some pretty serious academic work. Before your semester starts, make it clear that you’ll be busy for most of the day and that you have your own agenda that you need to stay on top of. There will be an adjustment period, but hopefully after a few weeks everyone will get the hang of things.

Here are a few boundaries I set with my family:

  • I’ll be busy pretty much all day, every day.
  • I can do household tasks, but they will get done on my own time, not necessarily when you want me to do them.
  • I want to try to live as independently as possible, I might not be able to join the family for every meal, I might try to cook my own food, and if I want to go out for coffee or to see a friend, I might not ask before I leave.

This advice can transfer to living on campus while taking online classes as well. Especially if you’re a freshman, you have a ton on your plate with the college transition. Adding online classes to sharing a dorm with a roommate to the mix definitely adds some stress. Establish some boundaries with your roommate(s) beforehand about when each of you has classes, where you expect to do your work, and just generally how you anticipate living in the dorm. Odds are that your RA will require you to work through a roommate agreement, so use that time to discuss these expectations.

Find A Good Place to Work

Quiet is ideal, but I know it’s not always possible. You’ll probably be required to keep your microphone off during class, so it’s not essential that your work space is 100% silent. I say find a good place to work instead of a quiet place to work for that reason. Personally, I’m unproductive in compete silence. I need a little bit of hustle and bustle and other people in the room with me to stay productive.

Last semester, I found a good routine where I would tune into my classes alone in my room, but once they were over I would complete my homework with my sister while she did her work. I like to have others around me doing their work because it motivates me to be productive as well. I found at school that sitting alone in a library cubicle is the least productive environment for me, so knowing your study habits is important to success.

Get Out of the House

Try to do something fun on the weekends at home like you would at school. I know that all facets of social life look very different now than it would normally. Even just getting brunch with a friend or visiting somewhere new in your state for the weekend can help refresh yourself for the next week. It’s important to take stock of your mental health and stress levels, even with online classes. Just because school is virtual doesn’t mean it’s easier. Doing online classes at home can sometimes be even more stressful than at school. Always have plans for the weekend, even if those plans are some time to do absolutely nothing.

A lot of these tips for online classes are common sense and things you probably do while you’re on campus also. The biggest struggle with online classes, in my opinion, is adjusting those good habits to a home environment. Trying to find independence while living at home is hard, and setting boundaries with family is difficult. Know that the first few weeks of the semester will probably be the hardest, but once everyone gets into the routine, it will get easier.

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