(Temporarily) Going to College at Home: What to Keep in Mind

We’re all doing our best to adapt to a different way of life. The transitions we’ve all had to make—physically relocating, remote classes, moving forward in uncertain times—have been abrupt and challenging. 

The switch to remote, online classes is a major change. Aside from the very practical aspects of it, there are several things you can do to make it go smoothly.

Plan your time

  • Choose your preferred tool for keeping track of your to-do list, due dates, and schedule, whether it’s a mobile app, wall calendar or bound paper agenda. The important thing is that it’s a format that you will actually use. Consider whether it would be helpful to keep your schedule somewhere that is visible to your family or roommates, so they know when you are likely to be learning. 
  • Review each of your original syllabi and watch for communications from your faculty on changes to due dates, assignments and exams. Update your calendar accordingly. Block out class sessions and other time-specific obligations, write down deadlines and create phone or sticky note reminders for important tasks.
  • Figure out how much time you typically need to devote to each class and account for when you will need extra time for major assignments or exams. Write this information out in a way that makes sense to you and use it to draft a daily and weekly task list and schedule. Be realistic about how much you are able to accomplish in one day and build in extra time when you have big assignments due.
  • While class times and other meetings may have a predetermined time, it will be up to you to define the structure of much of your day. Once you know how much time you will need to devote to your coursework, think about the best time of day for you to do that. Depending upon your living arrangements, you should consider the schedules of others in your household.
  • Be patient with your instructors and their response times. They might be maintaining “office hours” and may not respond to emails or messages at all times of day. Questions, especially about assignments, should be sent sooner rather than later to prevent turning in anything late. If you are unsure the best time or method to communicate with faculty—ask. They are there to help you learn and succeed.

Discuss schedules, boundaries, and expectations with your family or roommates

  • Whether you are living at home with your family or with other students in a house or apartment, you should sit down and have a discussion about how you can help each other with this adjustment.      
  • Prepare for this discussion by constructing an outline of the amount of time that you will need to devote to coursework and the types of tasks you will be doing. For example, will you sometimes need a quiet space to engage in online class discussions using a speaker and microphone? Your family or roommates will be better able to support your learning if they are aware of your needs.
  • If you are living at home with family members who work or are also in school, consider working during the same hours they do to help remove the temptation to socialize when you intended to be studying. If other family members are also working from home, plan ahead to share technology resources or favored working spaces, if necessary.
  • If you are living in a household with young children or others who require care, be sure to clarify with the rest of your family who will be responsible for providing that care and at what times.

Prepare your study space and state of mind

  • Keep your learning materials handy. Make it easy for yourself to attend class or complete assignments. Keep paper, pens, chargers, and other materials all together. If possible, keep a dedicated space in your home set up with these materials ready to go. If it’s not possible to keep a dedicated space, then keep everything together in a box or backpack, and treat that as your home office.
  • Do you need quiet space to engage in online classes? If you cannot escape background noise in your home, remember to mute the microphone as needed. Keep a notecard handy stating that class is in session and make it visible to others in your living space.
  • Take a few minutes before each class session to think about what material will be covered that day and what questions you may have. You might normally do that while you walk or ride the bus to class. That’s a great habit, and you should try to maintain it as an online learner. If you have trouble shifting your focus away from activity in your living space or from your family, try quiet breathing exercises as you sit down to study.
  • There will almost certainly be glitches and hiccups, from both students and professors who are adjusting to online teaching just as quickly as students. If there are hiccups, communicate what they are with teachers so you can resolve the issue quickly.

Stay connected to friends and school contacts

  • Find ways to stay connected with friends and classmates. If you always eat meals with the same group when you’re on campus, try having a regular group call while you eat so that you can catch up and support each other. Designating a time for these chats will also help to keep you focused during your scheduled work hours. Lean on your friends for social support, but also work to keep each other accountable to your goals and priorities.
  • Check with faculty about whether they encourage similar online interactions for class study groups. They may be open to ideas about how to engage students in their coursework and support their success during this time.

If you need help, reach out for assistance. While it may take some time— especially at first—for campus offices, your instructors, and support services to respond to email, be patient as they are working to answer your questions and provide you support.  

  • Communicate with professors and disability services to ensure your needs are being met for online assignments—especially if they’re timed—and work out other arrangements if they are needed. It’s important to know and ask about what resources are available to help with online videos or recordings and have support in place to navigate potential challenges.

As we practice social distancing and comply with stay-at-home mandates, there is a threat of isolation and loneliness. Confined to our homes and dealing with anxiety due to the situation, our mental health can suffer. You may not even be aware of it at first. You might feel more on edge than usual, angry, helpless or sad. You might notice that you are more frustrated with others or want to completely avoid any reminders of what is happening. People who already struggle with emotional and mental wellness might feel more depressed or less motivated to carry out daily activities. If you are struggling, here are some things you can do to take care of your mental health in the face of uncertainty:

  • Separate what you can and can’t control. There are things you can do to take control, and it’s helpful to focus on those. This includes even simple, but extremely important and effective things like washing your hands. Remind others to wash theirs. Take your vitamins. Limit your consumption of news (stay informed but be cognizant that the news can exacerbate your feelings of anxiety).
  • Do what helps you feel a sense of safety. This will be different for everyone, and it’s important not to compare yourself to others. 
  • Stay connected and reach out if you need more support. Talk to trusted friends about what you are feeling. If you are feeling particularly anxious or if you are struggling with your mental health, it’s ok to reach out to a mental health professional for support. You don’t have to be alone with your worry and it can be comforting to share what you are experiencing with those trained to help.
  • Take a walk, keeping social distancing practices in mind. It may seem like a simple activity, but it can work wonders. Walking is known to lower stress levels and improve mood. You don’t even need any fancy equipment. Walking has also been shown to reduce the risk of diabetes and cancer, lower blood pressure and cholesterol, and keep you mentally sharp. It will also leave you feeling refreshed. Exercise helps both your physical and mental health.
  • Challenge yourself to stay in the present. Perhaps your worry is compounding—you are not only thinking about what is currently happening, but also projecting into the future. When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment. Notice the sights, sounds, tastes and other sensory experiences in your immediate moment and name them. 
  • Meditate or practice mindfulness. If you need help with the practice of meditation, you can download apps on your phone that can help you through the process. Meditation has many benefits and spending just a few minutes meditating can bring a feeling of calm and peace.

Our primary goal is to make sure our community is healthy and strong. If you need help with online classes or emotional support, please reach out to your school.

If you’re not a student and reading this for awareness and are able to help, please consider making a donation so we can ensure our HBCUs have the financial capacity to help students get the resources they need to succeed.