How to: Online School (The New Reality)

I’ve always loved the first day of school. I love the sweet September air, the new school supplies and the reunions. I’m starting my fourth year of my undergrad, and an untouched notebook still brings me just as much joy as it did in first grade. I guess it’s what it represents: my love for lifelong learning and fresh starts.

The world is a really weird place right now. Sometimes normalcy slips in and I forget about everything for a bit. The Zoom calls, the masks, and the 2 meters. But now that I’m back at school and I’m adjusting to online classes, the new reality is sinking in. My heart breaks for the first years starting their University career like this, but I wanted to share some things I’ve learned about navigating online school.

The Benefits – Yes, there are some!

1. You're finally working on your own schedule - depending on how your classes are set. Say hello to a little freedom! You get to decide when and how you're going to get your work done. I personally work best at night, so I will definitely be taking advantage of some sleep ins.

2. You have more flexibility to work at your own pace. You can pause the lecture recording if you need to, and re-watch until you really understand. Typically, with online class your profs will set the same deadlines each week - so you can stay organized and really focus on learning the information.

Tips for Tackling Online Class

Schedule it in. And I mean everything. Read your syllabus inside and out for each class and put every important date into your calendar. Assignments, quizzes, exams – everything. I use the one on my laptop so I can see the upcoming weeks, but writing it in a physical agenda works really well for a lot of people too! Something I’ve found super useful is scheduling blocks of time into four categories: focus (when you’re grinding), admin (answering emails, any extracurricular duties etc.), social (you need time to connect – even if it’s virtual), and recovery (taking time for YOU). If your classes are asynchronous I’d recommend setting a time to work on certain classes, so you don’t fall behind! I even schedule in showers and meals just so I make sure I get everything done. Before each week, I make a weekly plan and highlight important tasks I need to accomplish each day. Staying organized will save you a lot of headaches, I promise.

Create a study space. I’m a huge library enthusiast, and have a really hard time staying home so this has been hard for me. I always make sure my room is clean, well-lit with natural light, and put on a diffuser so it smells nice (also some really good relaxing/focus scents). Even if it means going to a coffee shop or a public library, find your space and mix it up to stay motivated!

Take care of yourself. Your own physical and mental health are a priority. Go to therapy. Drink lots of water - always more than you think! If you're shopping for yourself, fill your cart with lots of fruits and veg. Your body will thank you. When I'm feeling anxious or generally unmotivated and uninspired, exercising always helps! Even if it's just a quick walk to get out of the house, your serotonin levels will undoubtedly increase. I know you've heard it before, but make sure you get enough sleep. Memory retention is directly correlated with the amount of sleep you get. If you have an off day, don't push it. You're allowed to take time for yourself. Take the day off to disconnect from extraneous stressors and focus on what YOU need. Putting your own needs first is not selfish.

Focus on the learning. Take your classes just as seriously as you would if they were in person. If you dive into subjects with a thirst for knowledge rather than memorization, you'll enjoy it more. Watch a documentary, read a book (not JUST textbooks), listen to a podcast or a TedTalk - there is so much to learn! Education is such a powerful tool, and if you're fortunate enough to have access - don't take it for granted.

There are people here to help you. Everyone is in the same boat. We’re all going to be a little lost, and a lot confused sometimes. It is okay to ask for help. Never stop asking for help. Go to virtual office hours, make a study group, and get a tutor if you need to! There are so many incredible resources at your disposal – I use Pearson eTexts, which have saved me money and so much time. You can use direct highlight tools, have topics explained with illustrations and videos, and easily navigate the textbook. Always utilize and take advantage of the resources around you, there's always someone or something that can help.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't a little nervous for this year. It's unchartered territory for all of us, but we are all in it together. Even though my back to school outfit is a sweat suit, and the reunions will be taking place in front of a screen, I'm still excited. Excited to immerse myself in new classes. Challenge myself. Be inspired. I'm still going to get outside to enjoy the warm September breeze. I'll always love the first day of school - even if it's on Zoom. It doesn't really matter where you are in the world, learning can always take place.


Isabel is a fourth year student at Western University, pursuing an Honours Double Major in Biology and Medical Science. When she “grows up,” she wants to help people in any way - big or small. She would love to go into medicine, and create sustainable global healthcare solutions that change people’s lives.

Her empathetic nature, creativity and drive have influenced her passion for connection, empowerment and knowledge. When she’s not studying she loves nothing more than an exciting adventure, a good book and eating sushi on the beach.