Currently, many school districts and colleges are still implementing an online class model for spring classes. Some schools are even trying to have a hybrid model, where some classes are in-person and some are online. Other schools are sending students back to in-person school by February and March of this year. Even with all of these different models, you will still probably have to do online school for some time longer. Grades are even more important now in college admissions because many universities are steering away from standardized test scores, so check out my top 10 tips on how to be successful in online classes.
Online classes can be really difficult and they are very different from in-person classes that you may be used to growing up. Coming up on one year of online classes for many students, some students have still not figured out an online-class system that works for them, and their grades have reflected that. As someone who graduated from college in May 2020, I only had a few months of online classes, but during that time, I adapted and figured out habits that worked for me which allowed me to earn straight A’s my final semester at UC Berkeley when classes switched solely online.
1. Clean your Desk Space: A messy desk is a messy mind! Once a week you should try to clean off your desk area. For me, my desk would get messy because I would never clean it, so papers, pencils, and dirt would pile up. Cleaning off your desk is helpful because it will help you stay organized and you will never misplace any important papers. You can purchase inexpensive desk organizers so that you can have a specific space for your loose papers and pencils. This is helpful so that they are not randomly thrown on your desk. Occasionally, I also like to wipe down my desk with a Clorox wipe, so that I can remove all dirt and crumbs from when I eat and study.
2. Set up Your Computers: Having your computers set up in the correct formation every day is helpful so that you don’t need to go and find your laptop in order to take online classes. For me, I like to have dual monitors set up, so I will connect my laptop to an external monitor. This allows me to have two screens when taking online classes. I would pull the Zoom class up on one monitor and pull my notes up on the other screen. Think of a computer set-up that would be most conducive to your learning style and try to set up your computers in that fashion.
3. Do Classes at Actual Time, not Later: If your classes do not take attendance and you could theoretically watch the recorded version of the class at any time you wanted, you should not do that. You should try to take the class at the actual time the teacher is teaching it, which means you should watch the class live and not the recorded version. In college, so many students say they will watch the recorded version at a later date, but in reality, this never happens. Students push back watching the class until a few days before the exam and then they are stuck having to cram all of the information and watch 14 hours of class right before the test. This is not a good way to study. Watching the class live will allow you to feel productive and get it over with, so that you are not stressed later because you procrastinated now.
4. Make Zoom Full Screen & Don’t Switch Tabs: While taking online classes, it is so easy to get distracted. A big tip on how to prevent some distractions is to have your class full screen on your computer. This will help prevent you from being distracted because you have nothing else to look at besides your class. Full screen also makes it harder to switch tabs and go surf the internet or online shop while your class is in session. Small things like this can be helpful in order to keep you focused!
5. Keep Your Camera On: If you feel comfortable, you should take your classes with your camera turned on. Having your camera on and knowing that your teacher and classmates can see you will help you stay focused and engaged in your classes. Since everyone can see you, this means that you can not go on your phone and be distracted, which is super helpful. Additionally, you should put your phone away, maybe in a different room, in order to not instinctively grab your phone during class.
6. Move around Between Classes: Sitting for hours at a time in the same spot is not healthy and will make it difficult for you to focus. In order to alleviate this, you could take your classes at different spots in your house to move around and get a change of scenery. For example, you could take one class at your desk and then another class at the kitchen table. If that is not something you want to do, in between classes or during your lunch break, you should walk around the house, take a short walk outside, or even do a quick workout. Staying active in between sitting for online classes is necessary in order to stay focused and not zone out.
7. Light Snacks to Eat/Drink: Sometimes when I am finding it difficult to focus, I like to have a light snack to chew on while in my online class or while studying. Eating quick snacks once in a while during your classes could help you focus. This is different for everyone, so test out what would work for you!
8. Go to Office Hours: With online classes, a lot of teachers are creating outside of class times where students can schedule to meet with them. You should definitely take advantage of this. If your teacher is doing a tutoring session or if your school offers free tutoring, you should hop on those Zoom call meetings. Learning material online is very different from learning it in-person, so you may need extra help in online classes that you didn’t need in regular classes and this is okay. Additionally, if your teacher does not hold office hours, you can email your teacher and ask if they can chat quickly after class or after school via Zoom. In this meeting, you can explain that you are not grasping the material and ask the teacher to repeat something they said in class.
9. Use an Agenda or Calendar App: While taking classes online or in-person, you should use an agenda planner or Calendar App in order to stay organized. I used both an agenda and Google Calendar throughout college. I would write down all of the homework, tests, and projects that we were assigned in my agenda planner. In my calendar, I would put all of my classes, work, and meetings. Through these organization tools, I never missed a deadline or a class. With online classes, it can be super easy to forget that your class is happening or that you have an assignment due, so make sure to stay organized.
10. Make time to Talk with Friends: With in-person classes, you would see your peers everyday. Online classes can be very isolating and lonely because you are now seeing your peers through a screen. In order to simulate the friendship and camaraderie that you would get in-person, you should make time to talk with your friends. You could schedule weekly Facetime calls to talk or schedule a socially-distanced hangout. It is important to keep your friendship connections so that you know you are not going through this alone.
Hopefully these tips on how to be successful while taking online classes are helpful! If you were interested in more advice with online classes, check out my blog "Tips on Taking Exams Online and How to Beat Online Test Anxiety": https://www.shcollegeconsulting.com/our-advice-blog/tips-on-taking-exams-online-and-how-to-beat-online-test-anxiety. You can also schedule a 1:1 College and Career Coaching Call with any of our Consultants for even more online class tips and tricks. Best of luck this school year!
Rachel is the Founder of Study Hall College Consulting. Rachel graduated from UC Berkeley in May 2020 where she double majored in Cognitive Science and Legal Studies. For more application and essay tips, check out our Study Hall College Consulting website at: shcollegeconsulting.com.