Tips for Being a Successful Student — Online and in the Classroom

Posted by Emily Fix on Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at 3:36 PM PST

I.T. Student getting ready for exams


If it’s been a while since you’ve been in school, it can be tough to get back into the routine of classes. I had a 9-year break between dropping out of college initially and starting college again, and I showed up to my first class completely flustered. I didn’t even have a pen! Since starting college classes again I have taken a mixture and online and on-campus classes and I’ve found that while each type takes the same amount of dedication and hard work, each class type does have it’s own specific kind of engagement. Here are my tips for being a successful student both online and in the classroom.


Find ways to “touch base” with your instructor.

In some online classes, you never get the chance to ever meet or even see your instructor face-to-face. Make a plan to check in with your instructor by phone, video chat, or even for coffee a few times during the quarter. I would suggest during the first week (to go over syllabus and expectations), midterm, and before finals. When you engage with your instructor, they get the chance to get to know you and have a better understanding of your needs and goals in the class. They can also become a resource for you when needing recommendations for graduate school or employment if they actually know you personally!

Keep a log of your tasks and an assignment calendar.

I’ve found that without a formal class time and lots of face time with my instructors to constantly “check” me and my timelines, I need to create those checkpoints for myself in an online class. While most online classes use interfaces like Canvas that keep a calendar of assignments and due dates, I’ve found it useful to keep different checkpoints on my personal calendar as well. For example, if I have a large project due at the end of the quarter, I’ll keep a checklist of the different project components and when I should have them done so that I can be successful. Breaking it out into smaller tasks keeps it manageable.

Schedule “class time” for yourself.

The flexibility of online courses is awesome, but it can also be tempting to bounce around between tasks when you don’t have to sit in a classroom for hours. It’s great that you can squeeze in 20 minutes of class time on your lunch break and 10 minutes at the doctor’s office, but it’s hard to be successful if you don’t make some time to really focus on your coursework. Especially if you are taking multiple online courses, spend a few hours each week dedicated to one class at a time. This will allow you to focus more deeply on the course content rather than just constantly going back and forth between assignments and classes.

In the Classroom:

Spend time preparing for class.

While no one is perfect and not everyone rolls into class prepared 100% of the time, we should try to be prepared as much as possible. Many instructors expect students to engage, ask questions, and participate in relevant class activities. Take a few minutes and go over what will be discussed in class and gather your writing and reading materials so that you can feel confident.

Participate in class discussions.

Participation is a part of class time that many people struggle with! Whether it’s being shy or freezing up when the instructor says “Do you have any question?”, participation can be intimidating. When I first went back to school, I made it a goal to ask at least 1 question or make 1 discussion comment during class time. Sometimes, I would even write it down before going to class. This helped me be successful in class because many instructors grade on participation, and it also got easier over time as my confidence grew.

Taking notes – Work smarter, not harder.

It’s very tempting to write down everything your instructor says in class, but it turns out that is not the best way to learn the material or to create notes that are helpful for studying. There are many free tutorials on note-taking techniques, check them out and see what works best for you:

How To Take Great Notes 

How To Take Cornell Notes Properly

Take Notes Like A Harvard Student

Have any tips to add? Leave them in the comments below!


If you are an adult student looking to go back to school, contact us to learn more about the B.A. Degree Completion programs, courses, and certificates at NCS.