By: Dani Kessel
During my university years, after a medical accident completely derailed my education plan, I had to switch to nearly all virtual courses. I was constantly in and out of doctors’ appointments and dealt with pain/mobility issues. The classes were tough to keep up with, and it took adjusting to master the format. While I may not have been facing a global pandemic, I can very much relate to the sudden thrust into online schooling that current university students are facing. It is an overwhelming, emotional, and petrifying experience. Plans were completely upended. It is okay to grieve that loss.
If you have decided to push through and keep going with your classes, I have 8 tips to guide you through this experience.
1. Transfer to a community college for prerequisites.
This is something I truly wish I could have done. By the time I switched to online, I’d already finished most of the prerequisites. If you aren’t going to be getting the “college experience” of your chosen institution, there is no reason to be paying thousands and thousands of dollars for the same quality education. When it comes to prerequisites, there is little to no difference across the board. Save yourself from the unbelievable, crippling debt!
2. Stay organized.
Keep a schedule. Put aside study time. Take notes. Review those notes later. Get a virtual tutor if need be. Show up to the professors’ virtual office hours. Almost all of the usual things you do for in-person classes will still be necessary. It may seem lax to do online courses, but your mental energy and organization will impact your overall success. And, honestly, in my experience, it takes more planning to keep up with this format.
3. Take breaks throughout the day.
While dedication to your classes and assignments is important, taking breaks actually matters. If you spend too much time staring at a screen, your eyes are likely to get tired. Your brain will experience fatigue and burnout. It’s a good idea to stretch your muscles, move around, and get fresh air when you can. This should boost overall productivity, work quality, and satisfaction.
4. Be comfortable but not hygienically complacent.
I’m not against wearing sweats for online classes. You still need to change your clothes every day though. You still need to take showers, use deodorant, brush your teeth, etc. Listening to lectures at home and doing assignments from your kitchen table doesn’t change your basic needs. Good self-care is always important!
5. Have “brain food” snacks prepared, if possible.
Fruits and vegetables are a great source of vitamins. They are extremely positive for the brain. There aren’t any magic foods that negate the need for studying and diligence; however, these foods can potentially improve memory and focus: berries, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, bell peppers, oranges, beets, nuts, and whole grains (list based on The American Brain Society and Healthline nutrition articles). If you have the money and the availability of these foods, they can be a good choice for when you get the munchies in class.
6. Make use of assistive tools.
Doing college online can be extra difficult for folks with disabilities. Luckily, there are a plethora of tools that make online courses more accessible. In a previous article, I discussed assistive tools for writers with disabilities. Most of these can also be used for online courses. Don’t suffer on your own when you can thrive. And, if you need other adjustments, it’s wise to talk to your professors and TAs. Nine times out of ten, they want to see you succeed and will do as much as they can to help.
7. Chunk new information and your assignments.
Online classes can seem daunting because they require so much attention. Chunking, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is the process of breaking down large topics into smaller, more digestible, less overwhelming bits of information which can be more easily retained. This can be applied to studying/learning as well as doing assignments. Do you have to write a paper? Make an outline and break the assignment into paragraphs. The one-paragraph-at-a-time method can seem much more doable than approaching a five-page paper as a whole.
8. Take a deep breath.
This change is a lot. People may try to downplay the emotional impact, but you are allowed to struggle to process this “new normal” that you’re facing. It’s okay to cry if you need to. Extend yourself the same compassion you would offer to anyone else. You’re continuing to seek out education in the midst of a global pandemic. You may not feel it right now, and that’s okay, but I want you to know that you are brave and strong.
I hope these 8 tips help you along with your journey. It’s difficult working on college virtually, but it is manageable under the proper circumstances. I wish you luck. I believe in your ability to accomplish this task if that’s what you want. And, if you decide otherwise, that’s okay too. You only have one life to live. Live it in the best way you can. You’re capable of greatness in a thousand different ways. No two paths are the same. Find who you are, what you want to do, and enjoy every chaotic moment getting there.