Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for a great online college or want a mix of online and campus classes, use HackCollege’s School Finder to find the best one for you.

Planning on registering for an online class next semester? Or maybe you’re taking one this semester and aren’t having the success you planned. There’s a big misconception out there that online classes are easy because you get to do everything at home. Going into online classes with that mindset could leave you with a trail of F’s and retaking courses.

If you don’t know how to tackle online classes, it’s extremely easy to get overwhelmed and fall behind. But it doesn’t have to be that way! These tips will help you avoid falling into the traps that a lot of students (including myself) have fallen into when taking classes online.

Related5 Reasons You Should Consider an Online College

Read the Syllabus

At the beginning of nearly every semester, your professors give you a syllabus. For physical classes, the professor might go over it during the first class, and then the students just throw them away. But at least they have a general idea of what was in it.

For online classes, a lot of students don’t even look at them. This pretty much sets you up for failure since professors of online classes usually don’t have the chance to address the entire class and answer all the basic questions students have in the beginning, they put everything you need to know in the syllabus. This includes important information like:

  • How to take exams
  • How to contact the professor
  • When assignments are due
  • How to submit assignments
  • What books and materials you need for the class

Some professors might also require you to submit all assignments through Blackboard and not email. If you email your assignments because you didn’t read the syllabus, you could wind up with a zero for work that you actually did.

RelatedHow to Make the Most of Your Course Syllabus

Plan Ahead

To quote Benjamin Franklin: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Professors that teach online classes realize that a lot of people taking the courses do so because they have a busy schedule. In order to make their lives easier, they usually upload an overview of all the assignments for the semester with due dates so that students can plan ahead.

If you have to go to the physical campus or have a proctor to take an exam, you need to prepare for it ahead of time. Since the teachers give you so much advanced notice of when everything is due, some of them aren’t very forgiving when it comes to accepting late homework or taking exams late.

At the beginning of each week, go through each of your online classes and see what’s due this week and next week. This way you know exactly what’s coming up and can prepare accordingly.

Complete Your Work BEFORE the Due Date

This is probably one of the biggest mistakes students make with online classes. I can admit I’ve done it too, but this is why it’s important to plan ahead.

When an assignment is due at 11:59PM on Sunday, you shouldn’t just be getting started on Sunday at 6:00PM. Instead, do your work throughout the week and have it ready to go before the due date. This way, if you have questions or if it’s just a lot of work, you’re not rushing to get it all done.

Set aside an hour or so a day to dedicate to doing your online assignments. You might even consider treating each online class as if it were an in-person one and have a weekly time to focus on it.

Reach Out for Help

Since you don’t physically get to see your professor or classmates most of the time, you can really start to feel that you’re in it all by yourself. On some levels, that’s partially true; however, if you’re struggling with the material or having problems keeping pace, reach out to the professor and let them know what’s going on. They may be able to recommend tutoring, helpful reading assignments, or another solution to help you get through the class.

If you have questions about a particular assignment, ask your classmates for help. Online classes use discussion boards to give students an open forum to ask questions and help each other out. You’ll probably find that you’re not the only one struggling on certain assignments.

Eliminate the Distractions

Attending classes at home is good and bad. On the one hand, it’s convenient; on the other hand, it’s a little too convenient. When you’re in a classroom, you don’t have the TV on, family members walking around, and the temptation of playing a quick game of Madden. When you’re at home, all these distractions are right in your face.

So it’s extremely important that you try to keep the distractions to a minimum. But how do you do this? Simple, lock the kids away and break all your electronics! Okay, so that’s probably not an option.

What you CAN do, however, is set up a workstation or office space if you have room. A lot of people recommend not using your bedroom for this (it takes away from the tranquility). but if you don’t have a space in your house to use, try doing your work at a library. You get free Wi-Fi, silence, fewer distractions, and books you can use for research.

RelatedHow to Get Over and Work Around Distractions

App it Up!

Take advantage of all the different productivity apps out there. It’s important to use productivity apps effectively, though. Use apps to help set reminders for when assignments are due, create to-do lists of everything you need to do, and even to do some of your assignments.

If you’re taking online classes, there’s a good chance that you’re pretty technically inclined anyways, so keep it going and use apps to your advantage throughout the semester.

Don’t Fall Behind

If you plan ahead and don’t wait until the last minute to start assignments, this shouldn’t be a problem. For some of the courses you take online, the assignments might be linked together. For example, your assignments might look something like this:

  • Week 1: Create a list of topics for your paper due in week 4. Use a mind map to organize it.
  • Week 2: Create a proposal for your chosen topic.
  • Week 3: Write an outline of your paper for your approved topic.
  • Week 4: Complete your paper.

Now if it’s week 3 and you haven’t even do the assignment from week 1 yet, you’re way behind and won’t be able to move on. And you can’t even do the week 4 assignment until you’ve done the proposal from week 2 because you don’t have an approved topic yet. See how messy things can get when you fall behind?

RelatedHow to Bounce Back from Failing a Class

All online classes aren’t as easy as you might think, but they also don’t have to cause you to pull your hair out from stress and frustration. Stay on top of all of your assignments and take control and you’ll be able to ace your online classes.

What tips do you have to succeed with online classes? Drop a comment below.


Image: Ron Wiecki