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BWW Blog: 5 Ways to Prepare for a Successful Online Semester


Here are 5 ways I recommend preparing for the new online semester

BWW Blog: 5 Ways to Prepare for a Successful Online Semester

The new school year is so close, and for some college students, classes have already started! I always love back to school times because I love organizing and falling into a new routine, but this year is obviously very different for most of us. Princeton is fully online this Fall and I will be at home for most of the semester, so a lot of my time during the last few weeks has been spent preparing for this new way of attending college. Trying to navigate how I can set myself up for success has been a multiple week journey and has definitely included a lot of research, YouTube videos, and discussions with friends. I think it is important that we all recognize the multitudes of ways this year is unique and take the time to prepare accordingly.

Here are 5 ways I recommend preparing for the new online semester:

1. Plan, plan, plan!

-It is more important than ever to have a planning system because it is so easy to feel lost and overwhelmed while doing online classes. Find a planning system that works for you! Everyone's different, so your "combination" can be completely unique. The most important thing is that you have one place to put all of your important syllabi dates and have one place to keep track of your daily to-do lists.

-Start testing out your planning system before classes start and make sure you transfer all key due dates and deadlines to your planner as soon as you receive your class syllabus.

-I personally love using Google Calendar for long term dates and for scheduling appointments. A free digital calendar like Google Calendar or iCal is great because not only does it sync with all your devices, but you can also set reminders for yourself so that you never forget about an upcoming deadline or appointment. I then use a paper academic planner for my daily and weekly school planning. For example, it is in my academic planner that I break down a large essay into daily goals. This helps me stay focused on smaller, more manageable tasks, instead of getting stressed by overwhelmingly large assignments. You can learn more about my planning system in this video.

2. Build a weekly routine.

-It's quite popular to talk about daily routines, but in a lot of ways building a weekly routine can be way more practical and important, especially for college students. I have found that in college each day is different, but there are certain schedules and deadlines that repeat on a weekly basis, such as class times, weekly discussion posts, club meetings or office hours. So because there are "givens" for each week, it can be very helpful to designate certain times each week for specific tasks or kinds of work. For example, I love to block out my week by class and class assignment. If I know I have a discussion board post for a history class due every Monday at 2pm, then I will designate Sunday evenings from 9pm-10pm as the time to complete that discussion post and I try to roughly follow that plan every week.

-This kind of routine building for schoolwork is especially important with asynchronous online learning. If one of your professors allows the class to watch the lectures anytime during the week, then designate a specific time each week to watch the lecture for that class. Not only will this help you to not fall behind in the class, but it will help online lectures seem more like a scheduled appointment and less like another item for the long to-do list.

3. Prepare for the challenges of virtual college.

-"Zoom fatigue" is a real thing. We already spend too much time on our devices and now college students have to spend all of their class time, social time and extracurricular time staring at a computer screen. Be diligent about scheduling time free from devices. Plan to step away from all devices for an hour or two each day or block out hours of your weekend as screen-free.

-If you are able, buy or find some tools that can make being on your screen easier and healthier. I highly recommend buying blue light glasses or downloading a free blue light reducing app to prevent eye strain and headaches. A laptop stand can also help prevent slouching and bad posture when sitting at a desk all day.

4. Prepare your technology!

-Add something new and fun to your technology! A new wallpaper or some stickers can feel really refreshing and exciting at the start of a new year.

-Organize your digital space so that your computer and phone feel uncluttered and so that you have a clear system for organizing and syncing files throughout the year.

-Find some new tools and apps to explore. If you use Chrome as your browser, then I highly recommend adding a few Chrome extensions. There are extensions that can help you organize your online research, make it possible to annotate web pages, time your study sessions or help you stay away from distracting websites. There are also extensions that are just for pure fun and the best part is that all Chrome extensions are free! I also love exploring new computer and phone apps for notetaking, planning, or organization. I have recently loved using Notion and Fantastical Calendar. New apps can be very practical but also give you something new to explore while you start school.

5. Create space for yourself to step away from school.

-The creation of personal space is so key to maintaining good mental health, especially when doing online school. This "personal space" doesn't necessarily have to be a physically separate space. Some people may find that they need to designate a part of their bedroom as their "away from school" space, while others may find that they just need to create a separate mental space for themselves.

-For example, this year I have decided to start bullet journaling and I have designated my bullet journal as a place to track personal goals and plan creative projects. This way I have a journaling and planning space separate from my academic planner. Try setting up a meditation/reflection corner in your room or make space in your schedule each day to work on a creative project that is just for yourself. Give yourself space to reflect, grieve, create and breathe.

This semester is certainly going to be challenging, but with a little preparation hopefully we can all make the most of this unique time and stay productive, grounded and healthy. Have a great start to the school year!

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