Making Time for School when You Take Online Classes

As a college instructor who teaches online classes, I often see students start out strong, then fall behind after a week or two. Usually it’s not the difficulty of the work, but rather poor time management skills. Once a student starts missing assignments, they add up fast. Then it feels too overwhelming to get caught up.

Here are four ways to make time for school when you take online classes. Follow these suggestions to carve out enough time and pass your class successfully:

1) Make a time management plan before you even enroll in a class.
Too many students are so excited about the idea of starting or returning to college that they don’t make any concrete plans. They sign up for online classes without ever looking at how their school work fits into the big picture of their lives.

Set yourself up for success by analyzing your schedule and deciding how much time you can devote to classes and the exact days and times you’ll do your school work. You may find that you’re not quite ready to add a big commitment to your life without some adjustments.

2) Start out slow. Excitement causes many students to sign up for a full course load. After all, with online classes, the schedule is very flexible. They forget that it still takes many hours of work for each individual class. I see this happen every semester as students get overwhelmed and drop out.

Start out with one course, even if you think you can handle more. If you’re right, that’s great. Sign up for more classes next semester. Otherwise you might discover that slow and steady is the best way to win the race to your degree.

3) Eliminate disturbances during your study time.
When you attend a bricks and mortar school, you’re in a classroom where it’s easy to devote yourself to your schoolwork. With online classes, you have to create your own distraction-free environment.

If you live alone, this isn’t too difficult. Just turn off your phone, refuse to answer the door, and concentrate on your class work for a set amount of time each day. If you live with other family members, you have to draw strong boundaries.

Choose a place to work where it’s hard for other family members to find and disturb you. A locked bedroom with a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the door works nicely. Get everyone’s commitment to support you in your schooling, and emphasize that a big part of that support means respecting your schedule and leaving you alone when you study.

4) Have a contingency plan. I see many students start out strong, only to be sidelined by illness, family problems, or an unexpected work hour increase. You can’t prevent emergencies from happening, but you can have a contingency plan in place.

Know where you’ll fit in make-up time if something keeps you from doing your school work on your regular schedule. Get familiar with your instructor’s late work policy, and let him or her know as soon as you can when there’s a problem. Most teachers will work with you as long as you’re serious about getting caught up.

It’s never easy to fit school into your schedule when you have a busy life, but it’s certainly doable. Thousands of students do it every day, and you can join their ranks by practicing good time management skills and using these tips.

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