Adjusting to Online College Life: How to Study at Home Effectively

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we’re all adapting to a new way of doing everyday things. Many of us are working from home and many college students are adjusting to online college life.

To help out, we've gathered some tips from experts and added some of our own thoughts about how you can study at home effectively.

Create Your Own Structure for Learning

When students attend college in person, their experience comes with built-in structure that includes scheduled classes and study sessions, campus events and extracurricular activities. One of the biggest challenges of studying at home is that you may have little or no structure unless you create it yourself.

Dr. Kevin Corsini is the President of San Diego Christian College. Here’s what he said about creating structure:

“The familiar and assigned structure of the traditional class is absent, so decisions must be made and a self-imposed structure created. First, when is the best time to participate in your class? Be deliberate and choose a regular time to engage your class that is not only convenient for your schedule but also conducive for your learning style. Some learn best at the crack of dawn, others into the late hours of the night. Consider the ideal learning time for you when your mind is sharp and you can get the most out of your studies.”

Keep in mind that you may be required to attend classes at specific times. While some colleges are making recorded lectures available to students, others are still requiring live attendance via Zoom or another conferencing app. Make sure to check your college’s requirements before you create your schedule.

If you’ve never thought about what time of day your mind is sharpest, try keeping a journal or using a note app to track your activity for a few days. It can help you understand which times of day you’ll be most productive.

You may also want to think about using a calendar to schedule time for your classes and assignments. Setting appointments with yourself is a time-management tip that several of our experts mentioned. It’s a good way to keep yourself on track and accountable as you study from home.

Create the Right Atmosphere for Studying

The next piece of advice is one we heard from several of our experts and it aligns with the advice we’d give to anybody who’s had to adjust to working from home as well. It’s essential to have space to study and the right atmosphere for studying if you want to do well in your classes.

If possible, create a dedicated study space. You will find that you work better when you have a spot that you know is there to help you study. If you prefer quiet, then try to find a quiet spot in your home. In nice weather, you may even prefer to work outside.

You should also think about the items you need in your study space. Stacy Peazant, an Academic & Research Administrator at the University of Florida, notes the importance of the right technology. She says:

“If possible, invest in a laptop computer with robust speed so that you can access online classes smoothly. A reliable pair of earbuds or noise canceling earphones may also come in handy if you have roommates or are living at home.”

We would add that you should also think about the aesthetics of your study space. Having some things you love nearby, such as photographs, artwork or flowers, may help you feel good about spending time in your space to get work done.

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Make Full Use of Your College’s Resources

One of the most challenging things about figuring out how to study at home effectively is not having access to the same resources you would have if you were studying on campus. While the situation may not be ideal, there are some things you can do to get the help you need.

Stacy also offered several potential resources that online college students should explore:

  • “Familiarize yourself with all university resources (e.g. library, wellness center, writing center). Participate in introductory information sessions and virtual tours. Investigate how they can be accessed remotely.
  • Take time in advance to become acquainted with your college’s learning management system (LMS) and its features.
  • Engage with your school’s career services office early and often. Do not wait until your final semester!”

If you’re unsure which resources are available, your college’s website is a good place to start. You can also reach out to the Dean’s office or even ask a professor or a fellow student.

Connect with Other Students

Study groups offer college students an ideal combination of academics and socialization. In a group, students can help one another with the material they’re studying and offer needed perspective and encouragement.

While in-person study groups aren’t possible thanks to social distancing, that doesn’t mean you can’t connect with other students and study together online. Dr. Deb Geller, the Associate Dean of Students at UCLA, says:

“Just because you have to social distance doesn’t mean you can’t have study groups. Form virtual study groups. The connection and community they give you is important to your academics and your mental wellness. This is especially important for new freshmen and transfers.”

Another benefit of study groups is that you and the other students in your groups can act as accountability partners for classes and assignments. If you have a difficult time sticking to a schedule, it may be helpful to ask a fellow student to keep you on track.

We would add that you should form study groups early in the semester. That way, you’ll have time to get to know your classmates and you’ll have the support you need throughout the semester. Study group meetings can be held online using Zoom or any video conferencing app you choose. You can use email or messaging apps to chat between meetings and send documents and class materials.

Get to Know Your Professors

Another unique challenge of distance learning is that students can’t meet with their professors face-to-face or get to know them in the same way they could before the pandemic. However, you’ll find that professors are finding ways to meet with and encourage students even when they can’t hold in-person office hours.

Dr. Deb Geller also said:

“Take advantage of faculty virtual office hours. If you have a question, ask. If you have a unique situation, talk to your professor. We are human, and we are empathetic.”

Her last point is an important one. Everybody is working at adjusting to online college life, including your professors. They know that it’s challenging to work at home and they also know that many students are struggling with loneliness and other issues as they shelter in place.

Evan L. Kropp, Ph.D. is the Director of Online Graduate Programs at the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication. He told us:

“My instructors regularly tell me that building relationships with students and seeing them succeed is one of the greatest benefits of their jobs. Start with an introductory email at the beginning of the semester and stay in touch regularly. It is possible to build strong and long-lasting relationships with your online instructors who can help you in the future with letters of recommendation, finding internships or providing job advice.”

In other words, don’t wait until you have a problem to connect with your instructors. Reach out at the beginning of the semester and build the relationship. That way, you’ll feel comfortable asking them for help if you need it.

Make Time for Fun

Going away to college is about more than getting an education. For most young people, it’s also their first taste of independence. They can stay up as late as they want to, go out with their friends and experience what it’s like to be on their own.

One of the biggest downsides of online college life is that many of these experiences aren’t available. However, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t find ways to socialize and have fun.

We already mentioned study groups, but you should also check your college’s online bulletin board for events and activities. Many schools are hosting virtual meet-ups. Even if your school isn’t doing that, you can still connect with other students for an online game night or dinner. If you live near other students, you may even be able to attend or host a socially-distanced event outdoors.

Adjusting to online college life means learning how to study effectively when you aren’t on campus. The advice we’ve provided here can help you have a successful school year despite the challenges of online studying.

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