Advice for College Freshmen: 10 Tips to Prepare for Remote Learning

College freshmen in 2020 will undoubtedly experience one of the most unique college beginnings in history. Here are some tips to navigate remote learning.

By Casey Welch

College freshmen in 2020 will undoubtedly experience one of the most unique college beginnings in history. With many campuses shifting learning from on-campus to online in response to the pandemic, college freshmen will surely see a lot more computer screens and Zoom calls than homecoming games and rush events!

If you’re heading into your first year of college this fall, you already know you’ll be doing a lot more online work than in-person work. But don’t stress, because your university probably knows how to handle this transition.  Even before the pandemic, it was fairly common for students to take online college courses. In fact, data from the National Center for Education Statistics shows that more than 6.9 million college students enrolled in at least one online course in the fall of 2018.

But as many students found out this past spring—supplementing your in-person education with one or two online courses and having your education be entirely remote are two very different experiences. With college distance learning, there is no in-person interaction between you and the professor or teacher’s assistant whatsoever.

Remote Learning

How to Make Remote Learning Work for You

As you prepare for your first week, rest assured that you can still crush your academic goals while learning far from the classroom. From utilizing the right technology to making the most of remote internships, here are a few ways to optimize your college distance learning experience.

  1. Invest in the Right Technology—Find out which online learning tools your professors will be using and get them set up early. Don’t wait until the first day of class or your first live lecture to test out your video conferencing software or your new webcam. Also, consider buying a printer. It’s fairly inexpensive and you can use it to print out class materials that will serve as a physical reminder to read through them in your spare minutes.
  2. Create a Designated Study Space—Think twice before you decide to listen to a lecture hall in bed. If the material isn’t particularly engaging, being in a cozy bed will only make it that much harder to stay awake. You can avoid this temptation by creating a designated study space that will help you stay engaged and on-schedule. Be sure to choose a well-lit space that makes it easier to block out unwanted distractions. Consider decorating your space with a few plants. According to research from the University of Exeter, adding some greenery to your workspace can make you happier and more productive.
  3. Don’t Bite Off More Than You Can Chew—If you’re an incoming freshman, be careful to avoid overestimating how much coursework you can reasonably handle. Contrary to popular belief, online courses are not necessarily easier than in-person classes. While some students find that they learn better through online classes, others struggle to adapt to remote instruction. For your first semester in college, you might want to go a little easier on yourself. By giving yourself time to adapt to college distance learning, you can keep your grades high and your stress levels low.
  4. Ask for Help When You Need It—Have questions or concerns that you don’t want to discuss in front of your classmates? Want to discuss the most recent lecture in-depth? Reach out to your professor during their virtual office hours. Talking with your professor one-on-one—even within a virtual setting— is a great way to build a professional relationship with them. Not only can they make the semester more enjoyable for you, but they can also be an invaluable resource for career questions and post-graduation opportunities.
  5. Embrace Remote Study Groups—Study groups are an easy way for students to review course material together and prep for exams. If you’re the type of person who learns best in a group environment, why not start your own virtual study group? It could be easier than you might think. After all, professors have had all summer to think about how they might make the transition to online learning easier for students. Your professor may help you get the ball rolling by facilitating student introductions and using videoconferencing platforms to hold online study groups.
  6. Start Building Your Resume—Fact: You need experience before you can get a job in your field, and college is prime time for gaining this valuable experience. Consider joining your university’s virtual clubs and organizations. Even though the experience may not be the same, it will still look good on a resume. And don’t forget about remote internships! You should have one, and preferably two internships under your belt by the time you graduate.
  7. Be an Active Participant in Class—Do your best to participate in your online classes as much as possible. Being an active participant in online classes can provide you with a host of benefits. Not only will you retain more information, but you’ll also get to know your classmates and your professor better through regular discussion. Just make sure that you have something to contribute to the conversation. Prepare for class ahead of time by writing down your questions and reading the assigned material carefully.  
  8. Take Care of Yourself—With online education, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy habits. You might find yourself sitting in front of your laptop for hours on end, mindlessly snacking on junk food, and forgetting to move regularly. Be sure to give your mind and body regular breaks. If you’re juggling online classes with a remote internship, try to find ways to get up and move. Download your lectures and listen to them while exercising. Go for a walk while listening to work meetings. If the lecture or meeting is happening live, remember to mute yourself!
  9. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate—Many of us don’t realize how much easier it is to communicate in-person compared to online. In a virtual setting, you aren’t getting as many nonverbal signals from your peers or your professor. If you’re not careful, this can lead to miscommunication and missed deadlines. When talking with your classmates or your professor, be sure to clarify anything that isn’t clear to you. You may want to ask your professor or classmates what their preferred communication style is. Do they prefer Zoom meetings? Email? Slack? Find out what works best for everyone for smoother communicating.
  10. Keep a Positive Mindset—Developing a positive mindset is key to succeeding with college distance learning. Having a positive mindset can help you cope with stress and even impact your ability to learn. Things are tough for everyone right now. If you find yourself struggling, take a deep breath, and remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.

Making the Best of Remote Learning

As a 2020 freshman, your first year of college is definitely going to be unique. That doesn’t need to be a bad thing. College distance learning can provide an opportunity to learn valuable skills in a flexible and unique environment. With plenty of communication and a positive mindset, you can make your college distance learning experience a huge success.