An image of a woman sitting on her bed doing school on a laptop

How to Survive When Going Back to School Means Staying Home

Even though many students will be attending school from home instead of returning to campus, it's still important to prepare for the upcoming semester.
August 27, 2020
11 mins read

For most of us, going back to school this semester won’t involve packing up and moving into dorms. As such, getting into the back-to-school mood may be harder than it’s been in the past. Here are some tips to help you get ready for school, even if you’ll just be attending Zoom University.

Create a Routine

It’s a Monday in the middle of October. Your class starts at 10 a.m., and it’s 9:55. You’re still in bed, but your alarm woke you up just in time to pull on a sweatshirt, grab your laptop and attend class from under your covers. While your professor is sharing some important information about an upcoming exam, you’re too busy rubbing the sleep out of your eyes and ignoring the growling of your stomach.

As someone who was also thrust into online classes in the middle of last semester, I know how easy it is to fall into the trap. But this time, you know you need to start the semester right. And the first step to doing so is by creating and maintaining a routine. Having a routine is linked with many benefits, such as better sleep habits, better decisions and more free time.

The most important part of a routine is creating a fixed sleep schedule. Even waking up an hour before class can help you start your day right with a healthy breakfast, a shower and a few moments of relaxation before hopping onto a Zoom meeting.

Making a routine may sound overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. Starting small by setting goals for yourself is one of the easiest ways to build long-lasting habits that pay off. Things like drinking a glass of water every morning or going on a 10-minute walk every evening can go a long way.

You also need to know what works for you. If you are someone who is more productive in the evening, set aside time to get work done then. If you prefer working in the mornings, wake up an hour or two earlier. The point is to create a pattern of actions each day that will benefit you. Make a list of all the things you would like to do on a daily basis, and slowly implement them in your life.

Have a Schedule

Building off the last point, scheduling will be your best friend during online classes. Learning virtually means your classmates won’t be able to remind you about upcoming assignments as easily. And while some classes will meet synchronously, others won’t, so it’s on you to get everything done. Therefore, it is absolutely essential to schedule what you’ll be getting done each day.

I recommend doing so the night before; set your intentions for the next day and wake up ready to complete all your goals. Different types of scheduling work for different people. While some individuals benefit from having each hour planned out, others work better with a few objectives set for the day. Find out what works for you, and stick to it.

One way to make sure you don’t fall behind is by noting all important dates early on. At the beginning of the semester, write down all deadlines for assignments in a calendar.

Google calendar is one of my favorite tools for long term deadlines because it allows me to access everything from anywhere and in an easy-to-read format. Apps like ZenDay or Any.do are incredibly easy to use, but when you’re in doubt, a plain notebook will never do you wrong.

Find a Study Space

With the current pandemic, libraries and coffee shops are no longer an option for study spaces. Our homes have become our offices for all intents and purposes, and it can sometimes be difficult to find motivation. One way to fix that is to have a designated study area.

Having a separate study space improves focus and concentration. The places should be well lit, ideally with natural light. Find a space that isn’t your bed, preferably somewhere that isn’t even in your room, to make a clear separation between school and rest.

For students that live in multigenerational homes, have a lot of siblings or just don’t have much space, finding a dedicated study area may be difficult. If you find yourself in that situation, try to find a corner of your house that you can turn into a temporary space easily. Even a kitchen table can be an effective study area. The goal is to have a space that is assigned as your workspace, somewhere you can leave when you are finished. This will create the illusion of your school day ending.

Participate in Your Courses

Online courses will never be able to fully recreate the feeling of being in a class and having face-to-face interactions with your classmates and professor. However, the new mode of learning shouldn’t prevent you from connecting with your professors and courses.

One way to interact with a course in a productive way is to participate in your classes. When given opportunities to speak, make an effort. Leave comments in the chat when you have a question or if you want to comment on a point made.

Most professors will have virtual office hours — take advantage of them. Getting to know your professor will make online classes more interesting and engaging. Forming real relationships with your professors will also benefit you in the long run by providing potential mentorship opportunities, insight into your career trajectory or recommendation letters if needed.

Professors are also more inclined to be understanding toward students they know personally if something were to happen in the course of the semester. And regardless of anything else, just connecting with other humans is a treat in itself during this time, which brings me to my next tip.

Socialize With Friends

Schooling from home can be quite isolating. To make up for it, set times to see your friends, either virtually or in a safe, socially distanced setting. One way to connect with friends during virtual schooling is to set up Zoom study sessions. Although you won’t be able to replicate the experience of being in the library with a group of friends, you can at least motivate each other online.

If all of your friends are busy but you still want the experience, check out “study with me” videos on YouTube. YouTuber elloitsangela makes many long-form videos that really feel like you’re studying with a friend.

If you’re a freshman looking to make friends in your classes, make sure to join clubs. Most schools are doing online club activities, a perfect opportunity to meet new people. Don’t be afraid to reach out and make friends in your online classes.

Zoom has a chat option — use it! If a classmate says something during a virtual class that resonates with you, reach out and leave them a message. Email students in your courses, and try to arrange a virtual study group. Most importantly, don’t let the pandemic stand in the way of you and your future friendships.

Set Time for Yourself

Lastly, make sure you are putting aside time for self-care. Doing school virtually can be overwhelming, especially when there is no longer a physical space between studying and being home. But you can create a barrier by having specified self-care time. Set a schedule for when your school day will be “over,” and use the rest of the time for yourself. Make plans with yourself, and stick to them. The plans can be anything: watching Netflix, ordering takeout from your favorite restaurant, Facetiming with friends and more.

Self-care is essential for your physical and mental health. And it’s not just facials and tasty treats (although they are really fun parts of self-care, too); it’s cleaning your room, eating healthy meals and running errands you’ve been putting off. We’re facing unprecedented times, so make sure to check in with and be easy on yourself.

Reem Farhat, Fordham University

Writer Profile

Reem Farhat

Fordham University
Journalism and International Studies

Reem Farhat is a multimedia storyteller who uses her skills to report on underrepresented communities. She is the editor in chief of “Falastin,” a literary magazine connecting artists and writers all over the world.

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