For adult students, returning to school can be both an exciting and overwhelming experience. And while going back to school often evokes memories of freshly sharpened number two pencils and packs of loose leaf paper, there’s a lot more to it when you’re attending university online. Putting in a little work before classes begin will help set you and your education up for success.
Read these tips for preparing for your first day the right way:
Start with a plan
If you’ve spoken with an enrollment coach, you likely have a general idea of what to expect over the course of your program. However, it’s smart to make an academic plan with attainable goals, firm deadlines, and a timetable to keep you on course. Add those important dates and deadlines into your personal, work and family calendar, including dates from your various syllabi once they’re available. Set up reoccurring blocks of time on your calendar dedicated solely to studying, and stick to it!
Build a strong support system
It can be much easier to keep yourself on track mentally, academically, and emotionally if you know you have support in place. Returning to school means you’ll have to prioritize your time differently and will definitely need some help from family and friends. Consider holding a family meeting to discuss upcoming changes in schedules, and delegate new responsibilities if needed.
Create a learning environment
Once classes begin, you’ll have a lot on your plate. To avoid the urge to multitask—even with simple things like throwing in a load of laundry, starting dinner, or catching up on your TV shows—find or create a space where you can focus on the task at hand. That space may be a quiet area in your home, a booth at the local café, or a corner of the library.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re equipped with the right tools for online learning. It’s smart to utilize a powerful cloud-based memory system, like Google Drive or Microsoft OneDrive, so you have access to your work from anywhere and it’s saved in case anything happens to your hard drive. Depending on your program, you may also need a webcam and online conferencing tools. Check with your program to see if it has specific hardware or software requirements.
Learn how to learn
Whether it’s been a few months or a few decades since your last class, it’s worth refreshing your skills in studying, note-taking, time management, technology, and test-taking. There are tons of resources online that are worth exploring.
Once you figure out your preferred note-taking method, be it online, voice recording, or simply pencil and paper, get comfortable putting it into practice before class begins. And if you need disability-related accommodations like note-taking assistance, sign language requests, and on-site captioning, get in touch with the McBurney Disability Resource Center at UW–Madison.
Prepare an introduction
It’s a question that’s bound to pop up in online interviews and classroom sessions: “Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?” Instead of fumbling through a brief synopsis of your accomplishments, consider taking some time now to polish short introductions covering your background and professional aspirations. That way, you’ll get a chance to have your say and leave a great first impression for your classmates and instructors.
Returning to school is a big step, but it’s a step in the right direction when it comes to preparing for your future. Throughout your program, be sure to focus on you and to celebrate your accomplishments along the way.