How To Achieve Academic Success In An Online World

by Sarah Tibbitts

This March, each and every one of us had our worlds flipped upside down by the COVID-19 pandemic. For some, this meant losing a family member or loved one or even falling ill themselves. For others, shifting financial situations made life difficult, and essential workers had to put their safety on the line. Regardless of occupation, most of us found ourselves conducting our lives primarily online, many for the first time. Read the advice of five brilliant college students and recent graduates about how they made Zoom University (or school at any level) more manageable and even rewarding. Continue reading at the bottom of the article for some tips on self-care and mental health while navigating life over Zoom.



Tips For Navigating Zoom University


Abby (she/her), Columbia University ‘20

  • Be gentle with yourself and remember that in addition to all your schoolwork, you are still coping with the grief and adjustment of living through a pandemic.

  • Professors are usually very accommodating if you ask and assert what you need to make your learning environment more fruitful!!

Jack (he/him), Northwestern University ‘20

  • Try to establish some sort of normalcy in your routine.

  • Class was way more effective once I established a set routine around my schedule. For me, this meant taking class in a space outside of my bedroom (if applicable), exercising in between classes, and occasionally throwing on a normal outfit.

  • Obviously, this is an unprecedented time and it can be hard to find motivation amidst the chaos, but I found it way easier to concentrate in class once I started to build my day with other (COVID-safe) activities.

Brynn (she/her), The Ohio State University ‘21

  • Block off an hour of study time at a time. Long study sessions leave you with too much time which can make you more susceptible to distractions.

  • Put away your phone and grind for 45-60 minutes.

Kristina (she/her), Occidental College ‘20

  • Learning and engaging with academics on zoom is so different from learning in person.

  • Shift your expectations and be kind to yourself as you take on all of these new ways to be a student.

Maggie (they/them), Georgetown University ‘21

  • In pre-corona times, we could segment our lives through our spaces — you study in the library, go to class in classrooms, workout at the gym, sleep in your bedroom, and relax at home. But now, we are unable to segment our lives through physical space, so it is really important to segment it through time.

  • Stay organized. Before COVID I was never the type of person to have a crazy Gcal, but now I literally have events in my calendar for homework assignments, phone calls, and mandatory roommate bonding. Make lists, set reminders on your phone, or find whatever works best for you, but make an additional effort to stay on top of your sh*t.

  • Each professor is adapting differently to teaching online. Pre-COVID, as a humanities student pretty much all my classes centered around reading, class discussion, and writing. Expectations around acceptable behavior were similar: be on time, pay attention, if you’re going to eat don’t be annoying. But now, each class has a very specific set of expectations that varies drastically from each of my other classes.


Overall, while different tactics work for different folks, some trends are clear:

  • Expectations are different. It’s important to be flexible and voice your needs.

  • Stay organized and chunk out your time (including breaks!)

  • Find a way to establish a routine and change up your environment so your weeks don’t just feel like never ending hours spent in your room.


Don't Neglect Your Mental Health

Maggie (they/them, Georgetown ’21) put some additional thought into taking care of

your emotions and mental health while navigating school (and life) online:

  • Our ability to form and recall memory is linked to physical space, but now, all of our memories are linked to such a limited variety of space, so it is, quite literally, harder to remember things, even as there is sometimes more to remember now. Be gentle on yourself.

  • Be kind to yourself. Even if things feel like they are starting to move towards being “back to normal,” we are still experiencing the trauma of going through a global pandemic. School is important but it’s not always the most important thing in the world. Take a break, eat a cookie, and hug your roommate.

  • Overall, just take a little bit of time each day (or maybe just each week) to reflect on what is working for you. This is something I wish I had started even before COVID but is especially important now.

Sarah Tibbitts, a 2020 graduate of The Ohio State University, currently works as a Social Justice Fellow at Stanford University’s Hillel.

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