In a matter of weeks, life has changed completely for college students across the nation. Not long ago, most were occupied by lectures, papers, and exams. Then, the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States—and a new era of social distancing began. The aggressive effort to slow the spread has forced colleges to retool for the time being, with most switching from on-campus functions to exclusively online learning.
While many students are already accustomed to the rigors of online studies, others are struggling to adjust partway through the semester. Remote learning has long proven an enticing approach for those who require flexible scheduling, but many students find it difficult to stay motivated when they’re stuck at home day in and day out. This lack of motivation feels defeating in the short-term—and if not nipped in the bud, it could prove a real roadblock for those who were previously on track for impressive academic achievements and a promising professional future.
Thankfully, remote learning success is well within reach, so long as students are able to make the most of tech resources and structured routines. Below, you’ll find top tips for coping—and thriving—in this strange new world of academia.
Develop a Schedule
Social distancing, while necessary, makes it difficult to maintain a sense of routine—a necessity for many students. Previously scheduled events such as extracurricular activities have been brought to a standstill. These may have previously taken time away from studying, but they also added valuable structure, often forcing students to schedule specific blocks of time for coursework.
Your current schedule depends largely on how your instructors decide to pursue online learning. Many maintain specific digital class times, which, although not the same as in-person courses, provide at least some semblance of routine. Depending on the instructor and class, you may log in for a video lecture or a real-time discussion board or chat room session.
Make the most of scheduled class times by minimizing distractions and, if possible, dressing the part. Sure, college students wore sweats long before social distancing took over, but comfy clothes make it even more difficult to concentrate when homebound.
Regardless of how your online courses are scheduled, it’s worth your while to develop a routine. Set aside specific times for studying and leisure, as well as breaks for meals, digital socialization and, if possible, exercise. Track these plans in your smartphone’s calendar and consider also adding them to a whiteboard so they are consistently visible.
Limit Your Social Media Exposure
During these challenging times, social media may seem like your best option for staying connected to loved ones. However, while goofy memes and TikTok videos can lighten the mood when you’re feeling down, it’s best to avoid getting sucked in. After all, these trying times have proven that not even a pandemic will destroy the time-wasting powers of Facebook and Instagram.
There’s no need to shut down social media altogether, but it’s important to recognize when scrolling makes you feel anxious, irritable, or lethargic. If you find it difficult to limit your exposure, set aside one or two designated times to binge on your favorite platforms rather than checking your phone constantly throughout the day. Consider also downloading screen time monitoring apps, which can help you determine how much of your day is currently dedicated to social media.
Don’t Get Sucked in By the News
This suggestion goes hand-in-hand with limiting your social media exposure. With reports changing by the minute, the news cycle can prove even more of a time suck than your Instagram page.
Under ordinary circumstances, it’s wise to remain as informed as possible. Currently, however, this effort can leave you feeling anxious or defeated. What’s more, not all circulating news stories are reliable.
As with social media, your best bet may involve setting aside a specific amount of time for reading the news or Googling the latest developments in your area.
When you seek updates on the pandemic’s status, stick with reputable sources that veer away from hyperbole. Keep an eye on information from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Make a Plan For Dealing with Isolation
If you’re accustomed to the almost constant connection provided on your college campus, the sudden isolation imposed by coronavirus can be difficult to handle. After all, even the most introverted among us are social creatures.
Nothing compares to face-to-face interaction, but digital substitutes can help. Set aside FaceTime or WhatsApp dates for chatting with loved ones or even binge-watching your favorite shows together.
Zoom is a particularly useful resource during these trying times. Virtual exercise classes, for example, allow you to check in with fellow fitness enthusiasts before you work out together—but in your respective homes.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to your professors, academic advisors and classmates if your homebound life is causing you to struggle. They’re probably suffering the same issues and are likely to empathize.
Your need for socialization will depend somewhat on your current living situation. If you’re staying with family or reside with a roommate or significant other, the solutions outlined above will grant both you and your companions some much-needed space. If you live alone, however, these forms of connection are that much more important. Plan in advance for how you will deal if you start to feel lonely.
Arrange Digital Study Groups
If you’re simultaneously struggling with isolation, lack of routine, and distraction, a virtual study group could provide a quick solution to these problems. It should also offer many of the benefits associated with in-person groups. If you already maintained a study group prior to the outbreak, make arrangements to continue meeting via video chat.
Perhaps you never bothered to get involved with an in-person study group. No worries—it’s not too late to start. Reach out to fellow class members to see if anybody is interested in setting aside a specific time every few days to cover important material. This scheduled time will help you feel like part of a community—and it just might become the most anticipated part of your day.
Draw Connections to Your Current Coursework
If you consistently find yourself gravitating towards the news, find a way to connect the information you discover there to your current classes. You might be surprised by the extent to which the present situation links to other topics. For example, the coronavirus outbreak has driven a renewed interest in the 1918 flu and several other historic pandemics. Likewise, those majoring in topics related to science or health care cannot help but draw connections between class material and the development of new testing and treatment solutions. Further connections may be evident in everything from statistics to sociology.
Do you have the opportunity to select a topic for a class project or paper? Consider integrating insights from the current pandemic. You already dedicate a significant portion of your day to scouring the latest coronavirus headlines—why not put this pastime to good use? While not all news stories are reliable, you can draw on a growing body of research to shine light on a variety of issues examined in your current classes.
Invest in Self-Study
Do any topics capture your interest beyond your present coursework? Why not make the most of your increased downtime to explore a different niche? We are fortunate to live in a time of virtually unlimited access to academic material; this is your chance to make the most of it. Whether you’d like to explore a topic you glossed over in your general education courses or try something completely new, you should have no trouble finding reading material, videos, webinars, or other helpful resources.
Remind Yourself of Your Long-Term Goals
Your current way of life may hamper some short-term objectives, but it shouldn’t stand in the way of your long-term goals. While this stressful situation may seem never-ending, it’s important to maintain faith that it will eventually come to a close. It’s impossible to know when, exactly, that will happen—but in the meantime, you can make real progress towards big picture objectives.
Did you ever make a point of putting your academic and career goals to paper? If not, now is the perfect time to dream big. Where would you like to see yourself in a year? How about five?
Don’t be afraid to get specific with actionable goals that reflect both your passion and natural abilities. No, you can’t control what will happen with the current pandemic or the economy, but you can prepare yourself to make the most of any opportunities that eventually come your way.
Times may be tough for today’s college students, but a silver lining exists within this difficult situation: the opportunity to make the most of modern tech solutions and dive into focused digital learning. And colleges and universities are right there with you, offering ways to help you achieve your goals. At Post University, for example, we continue to give students access to resources like TutorMe and the Center for Academic Success (CAS@post.edu) to keep students engaged and on track for their academic goals. A few simple adjustments in your life and your study routines could make all the difference.