How To Survive Online Classes (and maintain a 4.0 GPA), Part 1
School is fast approaching and others have begun. My university is not on the semester or quarter system, instead, it’s on a session system. We have four sessions in a semester, 8 weeks long for each. Students are allowed to take the first and fourth session because they don’t overlap, but any other combos are not advised.
Last semester I went through a life change and transferred from an on-campus, semester system university to a completely online school and session system. I had a choice to either not go to school last semester or tackle a full-time load in one session. I chose the latter.
Since it’s back to school, I want to share with you tips I’ve incorporated last semester to maintain a 4.0 GPA after taking 13 credit hours, all in 8 weeks.
A RECAP OF LAST SEMESTER
I took 5 classes, all online. 4 of 5 classes were related to computer networks and cybersecurity and the last one was research. At this time, I was living in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and my university is located on the east coast. Therefore, I had to make sure and submit all of my coursework 2 hours early. One more thing, on top of all of this, I also had to maintain hours at my internship and plan a wedding. Luckily, my internship was flexible and I was able to work as much or as little as I can as soon as I figured out a schedule for myself. Needless to say, last semester was a challenge, but I learned to adjust and adapt.
You’re probably wondering how I did it and this is exactly what I’m about to share with you in a two-part series. If I was able to do it, I’m sure you will, too.
So, how in the world did I manage a super intense semester? Keep reading as I slowly unfold some tips to succeed and maintain good grades!
1. BUY/FIND A PLANNER (DIGITAL OR PHYSICAL) AND WRITE DOWN EVERYTHING IN THE SYLLABUS.
I’m just going to cut to the chase here, I like the idea of a physical planner. They are beautiful, purposeful and gives you the ability to cross off your list leaving you with a sense of accomplishment. But they’re not for me. I’ve tried many times and at the end of the day, I just hate carrying them everywhere with me.
So, I rely on my digital calendar. Google to be exact. For the most part, I think Google is great. It’s accessible across devices and it’s even more helpful when you take advantage of its ability to notify you. There is no way to miss a deadline unless I purposefully ignored it. Also, let’s face it, I always have my phone and it doesn’t bother me one bit to carry it around.
While Google Calendar is a great way to track deadlines, I still enjoy having a checklist. Google offers task in their new interface (Google Keep is good, too), but I found the app called “Clear - Tasks, Reminders, & To-Do Lists” more suitable. It is available in the Apple Store (I don’t think it’s available for Android, but there’s Wunderlist if you want to check it out). I downloaded the app on my iPad which always sat next to me and my laptop every day during the semester.
The reason why I prefer “Clear” as my go-to checklist app is because of its clean and understandable user interface, the freedom of color coding classes and being able to set times and reminders. I also really enjoy one specific feature: when I forget to do or plainly ignore a task, it automatically populates an “Overdue” section.
TODO: Start with one class, read over the syllabus, choose a color, write down or enter in an app all due dates, exams, reading schedules (let’s face it, we all have to read our books!), etc.
Then, do it again, but with another class.
I know this sounds like a lot of work, but trust me, you’ll thank yourself later for putting in the work. No distance runner ever ran 5 miles without preparing. By doing this, you’re setting yourself for success and saving yourself from future breakdowns and anxiety at the peak to end of the semester.
2. START A COLLEGE CHEAT SHEET
Let me share a secret with you. Somewhere, buried in my file folder, is a hidden cheat sheet. I have one for life, for school, for coding. Today, I’m sharing with you what’s hidden in “coding”. I was a coder at my internship and the number of hurdles you have to get over to get a program working is absurd. For the longest time, I would run into a problem, find a solution, fix it and move on. Then, months later I run into the same problem, then I have to find the stupid solution, fix it and move on again. I’m about to sound like a broken record, right? Very inefficient. Time is of the essence especially when you’re in college, juggling so many classes at once and trying your best to keep a GPA that employers will look into when you’re applying for a job.
The next time it happened, I started a document. A cheat sheet. A very detailed cheat sheet, think of a manual. That detailed.
I want to share this with you because there is no online class out there where the professor doesn’t ask you to introduce yourself in the first week of school.
TODO: Create yourself a cheat sheet, label your first document “Introduction”. Copy and paste it into the discussion, modify if you must. This should save you time because you won’t have to ponder about your intro or second guess if your grammar is correct.
Then, cross off “Introduction for Class XYZ” off, don’t you feel better?
3. READ MATERIALS BEFORE SCHOOL OFFICIALLY BEGINS
When I took classes on campus, I didn’t bother cracking open any of my books. I know, so expensive and wasteful. The stupid mistakes I did, I’m telling you. Because I didn’t care to do my “homework” before class, I walked into lecture so many times baffled and most of my lectures? Computer Science. Malware, Trojan Horse, Bits, Byte, Loops, Algorithms, Data Organization. You get it.
I became so overwhelmed and I felt so annoyed with myself. How can I possibly set myself up for failure? Needless to say, I withdrew and had to take it again the next semester. Playing catch up with a subject like Computer Science on top of Linear Algebra. FAIL.
TODO: Read class materials before going to lecture or tackling an assignment.
Having some kind of understanding of the subject is better than not having any at all.
As my mentor told me, “Go to class and reinforce what you already know”.
I know this might be obvious to most, but hey, it was definitely not that obvious to me and I’m sure someone out there may be making the same mistake.
4. BEGIN CLASSES BEFORE FIRST OFFICIAL DAY & IF YOU CAN HELP IT, TRY AND SUBMIT WORK A DAY EARLY
Most online classes become available a week or a day before the official first day of school. It seems that the norm is to tell students that “online classes are much harder” and they can be.
TODO: Do Steps 1, 2 and 3, but don’t stop there. Try and get a headstart on your school work.
Getting a head start on school work introduces so much more “free” time.
Last semester on average I finished all of my weekly school work a day or two early. This gave me the chance to show up at my internship and make a bit of money, a free weekend to explore or relax, an afternoon to walk around the park and some time to grab dinner with a friend or go on a dinner date with my significant other. Don’t underestimate the reward for doing your work early, but don’t be in a rush also. Make sure you’re giving your all before you submit anything to your professor.
By doing this, you’re setting the tone for your semester. You want to succeed right? Then, get ahold of what’s yours and don’t slack.
P.S. This decreases procrastination because, in the end, your reward of free time takes place of all the other times you would have had to create “free time” and put off work.
5. CHANGE YOUR SCENERY
I rearranged our office three times in one week.
I didn’t anticipate this issue. It was my first time taking all online classes. The first time I didn’t have to wake up at a set time, to get ready and drive to school. This was the first time I was surrounded by quietness, it was deafening. I never expected how taking online courses could make me so restless.
TODO: So, change your scenery. Go to a Starbucks, but don’t go to the same one every time.
I am aware that by going to Starbucks to fill the void of human interaction can add up and eventually burn a big hole in your pocket, so…
TODO: Text a friend. Invite them over to study. Ask a friend. Ask them if they’re studying anywhere, that you’d like to join them. Trust me, the breaks you take with friends usually involves laughing and conversations that have nothing to do with what you’re studying, decreasing stress.
Don’t want to study with a friend because you think they may be distracting?
TODO: Go to a cafe, order your favorite food and eat it slowly.
TODO: If you live near your parents, use them to your advantage. Trust me, they will love that you’re over! Eat their food, use their wifi. Bring laundry if you really need to do that, too.
Just don’t rearrange an area in your apartment three times in one week. Use your energy to tackle your school work and just get it done.
HARD WORK. DEDICATION. SELF-DISCIPLINE.
Come back soon because I have more to share!