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Study strategies for attending college online.

Updated on June 18, 2011

Many of the skills that will make you a successful student in a traditional college will help you in your goal towards an online degree. Things like goal-setting and time-management are not only important to college life but to life in general. Development of these skills will be a lifelong journey that will help you to be successful no matter what you are trying to do. There are numerous books and courses that may help you become a better student. Most books are meant to cover a traditional setting but may be applied to the course work of your online course with modification. There are a few unique issues you may encounter when undertaking your online degree, though.

Make school a priority

In a traditional or online course school must be a priority. In certain online schools this may be more of an undertaking than you think. At the university I attend the student is required to post in forums for at least three days a week to meet attendance requirements. Under normal circumstances this may not seem like a problem and most of the time it is not. However, for most of us attending an online course of study we are not living the life of a "normal" student. Along with the demands of school work, we are juggling the responsibilities of home, family and work.These demands do not stop the moment school work starts , they will simply be added to your already busy schedule. Just like any other priority the key to success is to develop a back up plan in case of emergencies. One of the issues I had difficulty with was the constancy of the schedule. I attended the University of Phoenix. In the program I went through classes were set up on a nine week schedule. The advantage to this schedule was in that you take only two classes at a time. It was also very easy to stay motivated through out the whole class because it seemed that about the time I was becoming burned out by one class it was time for finals and a new one started.( a small note on that, if you are like me with severe test anxiety the first few sessions will really get to you, on the other hand it is a great way to get over it) The disadvantage of this system is that there are no breaks. No vacations, no holidays, no semester break. You will finish your finals on Sunday turning in your paper and the very next day start your next series of classes. The only break is a ten day break at Christmas. This policy extends to family emergencies as well. Within my first three months at Axia my mother died suddenly on the week before finals. My six children and I had to make all the normal arrangements and plan a funeral that was to held 400 miles away in a town that none of us lived in. One of my professors allowed me to turn in one assignment one day late. This is not the case in all online universities. There are some that have much different attendence policies and requirements, just make sure you know this before hand. As in other areas of life hope for the best, plan for the worst and always have a back-up. Murphy's law is always in effect.


Whether attending classes at a regular brick and mortar school or on your laptop at the kitchen table, there is no substitute for studying. A quick note on studying. Keep in mind that if it has been some time since you read anything more involved than a trash romance novel, it may be a little different this time around. Just like the rest of life, things change as we get older. Getting older may mean that we are getting wiser but that does not mean school work is going to be any easier. I found that there were some real problems with returning to school in my 40's. My short-term memory was just not what it once was. On the other hand I found it much easier to focus on doing my homework and setting goals for my classes. I wouldn't say that classes were easier or harder now than in my 20's. It was more of an issue of just being different and learning to work with my own strengths and limitations in light of them.

Read assignments carefully

The one thing I did find very different concerning my online assignments were the assignment details themselves. When attending a regular school there was always the oppurtunity to speak face to face with the teachers or other students. There is more interaction therefore if you are having a problem understanding a particular assignment there is some one to help. Most of the time the professor gives some explanation in the classes and therefore if you are having problems you can ask them there. In the online environment this is not the case. Assignments are posted and it is up to you make sure you understand it and all of it's parts. Another issue is that you will have one try at making your assignment work. In my experience the professors never give you a second chance. Once you turn it in the grade you get is the grade you get. There are no do overs , no second chances so make sure that you do it correctly the first time. Professors are also sticklers for the time limit when your syllabis reads the assignment is due Sunday at midnight their time , that is exactly what they mean, not 12:05 or 12:01 but 12 and it is logged in on the computer,so there is no denying it.

Do all homework and recheck the big assignments.

This may seem like a no brainer. But I know of many students who will blow off the smaller assignments while focusing on the bigger one. When looking at the points it may seem that blowing off a few of the smaller point assignments isn't that big of a deal. However, every point is important. You never know if the points on one of those smaller assignments won't have the needed points to turn that B into an A. Another issue is to recheck your assignments after posting them. As stated earlier you have one chance at your assignments. Many of my big flubs came as result of posting the wrong assignment or draft. The easiest way to prevent this is to post your attachment and then come back in and pull it back up to check that you have the right assignment posted to the right class and the right version. This sounds incredibly simplistic and it is but it was the one area in which I lost more points than any other. In one of my early classes I neglected this on my final and ended up in one of those palm to the forehead eye roll moments in life when recieving a zero on the paper because I had posted the assignment instructions rather than the assignment.


These last two tips may very well be the most important when it comes to online classes. In a regular classroom setting it always seemed easy to set aside the time necessary to do homework. After all you spend a certain amount of your day or week in the actual classroom. The online environment is completely different. You must set your class time.This is fantastic for the working mom and dad because homework and class can be done early in the morning or late at night to fit your particular schedule. It is a godsend for those working split shifts or at a job that has various schedules but it can be murder if you are a natural procrastinator. My advice is to set yourself a time to do your course work and work your daily schedule into it. For me this was early mornings. I would get up make my coffee, take a shower and turn on the computer. I even set my homepage to my college so that it was the first thing I looked at and worked on. No checking e-mails, no facebook , no checking the headlines. I did it right away while having my morning coffee and immediately started my homework, oh and don't forget to set your IM status to unavailable. Another useful tip is to set a weekly schedule listing all your assignments and due dates on the wall directly behind your computer or where ever you do your homework. On that note it is also a good idea to have a set place to do your homework in, make sure you and your family know the time and place you are doing your homework in. For me I did my homework every morning at my desk, When the door to my room was closed and the kids could hear the sounds of classical music playing they knew that if anyone bothered me it had better be for the house being on fire.

Manage your time

This leads to the final and possibly most important advice when it comes to success with online classes. Time management is such an important aspect of everything we do but in this case it can not be over stated. As I said when going to a regular college you will spend a certain amount of time in your class simply to meet attendance requirements. In the online environment it is all you and you will make or break yourself directly dependent on how well you manage your time. It may seem like a a no-brainer to make sure that you leave yourself enough time to do your homework but for those of us attempting to straddle the real world and academic life keep in mind, sh** happens. You may have all week to finish that big paper, It may be Monday and you have the day off but, you don't know what is going to happen the rest of the week. A good rule of thumb is to get your work done early. This not only frees up the rest of the week but allows you plenty of time to go back and check or recheck your work for those little mistakes. We have all heard te old saying that you can never be too rich or too thin , well in the case of school work you can never get it done too early. There is also one other thing to remember about time-management especially when it is making time for your homework. Schedule your assignments with your personal body clock in mind, in other words don't try to work on difficult subjects late at night if you are a morning person. One of the great things about online school is doing it according to your schedule but attempting to focus on Algebra or write that big paper after a 10 hour day is counter-productive.

For more tips and tricks checkout some of my other hubs and check back


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    • mbaker2012 profile image

      mbaker2012 6 years ago

      Too often people just relegate school, especially distance learning to the sidelines because it's not taken as seriously. If that is your attitude, then you won't do well.

    • cmellon86 profile image

      cmellon86 6 years ago

      Self-discipline is the most important, making sure you keep on schedule is necessary since you don't have anyone else holding your hand.

    • wendi_w profile image

      wendi_w 6 years ago from Midwest

      I have really enjoyed the experience. I have heard many criticisms concerning online schools but as of yet I have no real complaints good luck susanjk

    • profile image

      buzz190 6 years ago


    • SUSANJK profile image

      SUSANJK 6 years ago from Florida

      Going to school online sounds good to me. I went back to school as a single mom, worked all day and the went to school until ten at night. Onlline sounds so much better.

    • wendi_w profile image

      wendi_w 6 years ago from Midwest

      Thank you so much. There is a huge difference in schedules my son is attending an online university through our state college and his is completely different. The constancy of classes at axia has it's drawbacks in that there is no time off but this isn't a bad thing either, I was able to simply schedule in school work along with my other duties,because of this I can see myself as continuing taking classes. Instead of watching tv or facebooking or one of the myriad of other things we do to waiste time I have worked this into my life.

      Thank you for the comments, and yes it is a great feeling to graduate!!!

    • Bretsuki profile image

      William Elliott 6 years ago from California USA

      Hello wemdi_w, You give some great advice on this hub.

      I recently completed an online BA History degree with Columbia College, Missouri, their schedule was similar to the one you describe with University of Phoenix, Columbia did 8 weeks of class with 2 weeks between the end of one and start of the next. A good time to begin reading ahead for the next class.

      I also found my teachers very flexible, they were available to e-mail and phone if there was an emergency. They would explain questions about assignments and some not all would allow drafts to be submitted for advice.

      I would also advise that you look carefully at the course structure, as you say it is a lot of work and you do burn out after several months of continuous work. But it's a great feeling when you walk up to receive your diploma.

      Thanks for the hub. Voted up and Useful.