Succeed at Being a Full-Time Online University Student

COVID-19 has upended students across the country and how they were used to learning. I was lucky enough to take 2 online classes when I was an undergrad at the University of Texas at Arlington so I learned early on how disciplined you had to be in order to get through the semester. The real test came when I decided to go back to school for my master’s degree. I enrolled in a fully online master’s program as a full-time student at St. Edward’s University from fall 2018 – fall 2019. 

My workload was considerably heavy, as not only did we meet once a week for 1.5 hours via zoom, each class was only 7 weeks. Oh, I also worked full-time for the 16-months I was in the program. So, I’m here to help all of those students new to the online experience.

Like I mentioned above, you’ll have to be disciplined. I was lucky that my professors were comfortable with the technology we used on a daily basis. Zoom meetings for lectures are great because if you’re not really paying attention, most professors will make the recording available. I don’t know what LMS (learning management system) your school uses, but mine used Canvas. My professors would upload the videos there and it came with a transcription so you could skip ahead or write things down you might have missed during a live lecture. 

Managing Your Schedule

Google Calendar is great and all, but nothing beats having your schedule written down. Where I had only one class for 7-weeks, I imagine you’re having 3-4 per week. During my undergrad, my schedule was either Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, or towards the end of my time at schooling, I had a schedule of only Tuesday and Thursdays for 4 classes. It was grueling but it taught me how to stagger my reading for classes. Even though you’re under quarantine, try to make it where you’re not working on homework or school in general on the weekend. If your schedule is a MWF, on Tuesday and Thursday do all your reading. If your schedule is TTH, then you have MWF to do your reading and papers on those days. If you must use your Saturday morning to finish up anything you didn’t get to. Sunday’s always end way too fast, trust me, even for us now working from home.

Lecture and Textbook Notes

Write down your notes or doodle them in on your iPad Pro if you happen to have one and print them out. Break down chapters of a book you’ve been assigned and file them with your lecture notes. Pro Tip #1: OneNote, which happens to be free, can help you digitally organize all notes from lectures and textbooks. Also, you can download these Microsoft Apps on your iPad or Android devices. Oftentimes, universities offer the cloud-based software for FREE. Email your OIT desk or live chat with them if available through the school library website. Pro Tip #2: I always had multiple color highlighters depending on what I was reading and the importance of each note section. Try ordering Mildliners online from Amazon or Michaels.  

Communicating with Your Peers and Professors

Just because you're remote, doesn't mean you can't get help from your classmates or professors. Communication is key when you're an online student or even as a working professional. Have questions about the assignment? Email your professor or the class TA for help. The good ones (as mine were) will always make sure you succeed in any setting. Need some time with your classmates? Zoom is free to use for up to 40 minutes and that includes recording the meeting. Hang out with classmates to brainstorm ideas, especially if you're doing class projects. Use Google Meet, it's free if your university uses Google services or again Zoom. Similarly, there's skype. Want to chat? Set up a Slack channel for your classes and invite classmates. Some schools have Microsoft Teams which is similar to Slack.

Quizzes, Exams, and Papers

The best part of being an online student is that oftentimes, everything is open book and open notes. Do yourself a favor, and google the name of your textbook + Quizlet. You’ll find definitions and sample quiz questions. They come in clutch especially when you can’t quickly find the answer in your notes or textbook. For paper, I’ve noticed some universities still have their writing centers open virtually where you can still submit your paper for review and feedback. I can’t stress this enough, write early and send it in as a draft. It will help you keep on track and guarantee a better grade. Too late to submit your paper? Buy the student version of Grammarly or sign up for the free premium trial of it.

The effort and time you dedicate to your own classes will usually determine your grade. I graduated with a 4.0 in grad school because I dedicated 10-15 hours of reading, studying, writing papers, discussion posts and peer response (those were my least favorite). I think if you focus on your classes and less on what’s happening in the world, you’ll find a good routine for the rest of the semester. Need more advice? Drop it in the comments below and I’ll try to answer them the best I can!

Stay safe, stay at home, and get keep that GPA.

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