Getting Ready for a Virtual Semester

After an unconventional spring semester and an equally strange summer, I’m really looking forward to going back to school, and I hope you all are too! I’m excited to get back into the routine of having class every day, and I’m really looking forward to meeting new people and reconnecting with old friends. There’s just one small bump in the road … I won’t be going back to campus this fall.

Like many of you, I faced the extremely difficult decision of having to choose whether to go back to campus or not. Ultimately, since all of my classes are entirely online, I decided it was best to stay home. Whether you’re living on campus this fall or staying at home, there’s no doubt that this will be a semester unlike anything we’ve ever seen.

Learning how to navigate college classes online is no easy task, but there are a few things you can do to make this transition a bit easier. After learning how to navigate online courses last spring and taking a fully online physics course this summer, I’ve figured out a few tips and tricks that can help you prepare for this virtual semester.

Set up your “space.”

One of the major perks of not going back to campus is not having to worry about moving out. Instead of stressing about packing, you’ll be able to enjoy your summer right up until the day classes start.

The most important thing you can do to get ready for an online semester at home is to make sure that you have a good space to complete your work. The same goes for students living on campus too! Having one designated space where you do all of your work will help you to stay more focused, productive, and organized.

It’s also a good idea to make sure family members and roommates know your schedule so they don’t interrupt you. Having a discussion or setting up a shared calendar can be good ways to make sure everyone is on the same page with this.

Create a schedule that works for your needs.

Right now, it’s important to know what works for you. Are you the kind of person who needs a well-defined structure to your day? Or are you a more go-with-the-flow type of person? Either way, creating some kind of schedule is going to help you out a lot in the long run!

I definitely struggle with this because I really don’t do well with structure and find it hard to stick to a schedule. Knowing this, I outline my day REALLY loosely. Instead of outlining my work hour by hour and following a really strict schedule, I like to define a few clear goals for the day. For example, my goals for a given day might look a bit like this:

  • Watch chemistry lecture
  • Finish lab calculations
  • Complete economics homework
  • Attend math office hours
  • Exercise
  • Draft blog

This strategy works really well for me because it keeps me productive without making me feel trapped in a monotonous routine. If you need more structure to your day, hour-by-hour scheduling might be the way to go. The most important thing about planning is knowing yourself and how you work best. Take some time to think about the kind of schedule you’ll need to create, then build your days to reflect what works for you!

Explore your resources early on.

As I was taking my physics course this summer, I really regretted not attending virtual office hours and tutoring sessions sooner. It can seem easier to avoid seeking out help when you aren’t in a classroom setting, but it’s also easier to attend office hours since you don’t even have to leave your room!

Make sure to familiarize yourself with the tutoring/office hour schedules for each of your courses early on. I like to put these into a Google calendar so I don’t have to search for the times and Zoom links every time I need to ask a question. However you choose to organize, remember that these resources are here to help you. It might even be helpful to attend office hours for a few of your classes during the first week just to familiarize yourself with the format and introduce yourself to the instructor.

Online classes tend to give you the illusion that you’re working by yourself, but this is not the case at all! It’s important to hold yourself accountable for your coursework, especially when so much of the work is individual. However, it’s equally important to know when to ask for help, and there are tons of resources on campus to help you succeed. Seek these out early on in the semester! That way, when you start to struggle with a class, you’ll know exactly where to go.

Familiarize yourself with your different course platforms.

It’s likely that your online courses will use a variety of different platforms. This can be a bit frustrating to manage at first, so it’s a good idea to take some time to explore the different websites for each course. Familiarize yourself with the different tools you’ll need to use to navigate the course, and make sure you understand the technology requirements and expectations for that course.

If you’re not sure how to use a particular tool or have any limitations that may prevent you from being able to access all of the course materials, make sure to bring those questions to your professor early on.

Add some variety to your day!

With classes being mostly virtual, it’s easy for days to feel incredibly repetitive. Whether online classes bring out your inner workaholic or make you feel at a serious loss for motivation, adding variety to your days is essential to combatting the virtual school blues. Explore ways to get involved with RSOs and clubs remotely, and find activities that you can safely do with friends.

Remember to make time for the things you enjoy. There are countless opportunities to get involved, regardless of if you’re on or off campus, and you’ll always be able to continue the things you’re passionate about at UIUC.

This list is certainly not all-encompassing, so be sure to check out these additional student resources as well! I wish you all luck with the start of the semester; I hope it’s a great one!



Class of 2023
I'm a Civil and Environmental Engineering major in the Grainger College of Engineering, and I hope to one day work to lessen society's impact on the environment. I am a major nerd, have a passion for all things outdoors, and love exploring all the different opportunities that the University of Illinois has to offer!

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