Tips for Being a Successful Online College Student

Getting your degree online is becoming more and more common in today’s society. Not only does online learning allow individuals of all ages to earn their degree virtually anywhere, it also opens the door for working adults to obtain a college education without having to adjust their work schedule to attend classes.

But being a good online student doesn’t just happen. It’s important to prepare yourself for the intense studying and writing that you will have to complete to earn your degree.

That’s why I’m sharing some of my top tips for being a successful online college student!

Online college tips to help you be a successful student. If you're taking distance education classes, you don't want to miss this post. I'm sharing online learning tips for managing your time, studying, and more! Click through to read.

*Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, which means I may be compensated if you make a purchase through one of the links (at absolutely no cost to you)! Thank you for your support!

Online Learning 101: Find an Accredited School

While the idea of going to school online may seem great, it’s important that you do your research and find an accredited school. If you are looking for a specific program, you may want to check and see if the program is accredited as well. These schools are required to follow certain standards and are more than likely going to have a good support system for you.

Also, accredited schools and programs are more widely recognized and known. They also take the necessary steps to make sure you have financial aid options!

Make Sure Your Software is Compatible

Online college students are constantly turning in assignments as attachments, so it’s very important that you have a program that your professor is able to open. Microsoft Office is the most common and is often required by schools (and the great news is that Office 365 is free for students).

Make sure you check with the IT department to determine what type of software you will need.

Speak with an Advisor

Be a successful online college student requires asking for guidance when needed, as well as researching your options before you just jump into something.

There is nothing worse than paying for a course that you don’t need to take!

Your advisor is there to walk you through the application process and make sure that you have everything you need (i.e. prerequisites, etc.). This person is also your go-to-person if you have any issues along the way.

Get Your Textbooks

Getting your degree online means you will be doing a lot of reading. To make sure you have all the required materials for each course you’re enrolled in, check with your school’s bookstore or your course professor. I suggest getting the books as soon as you can so that you can read the introductions and familiarize yourself with the material.

Money Saving Tips for Being a Successful Online College Student

Forget the bookstore!

Amazon is an AWESOME resource for saving money and getting the textbooks you need. They offer:

  • Rentals
  • Used textbooks
  • Textbook buyback
  • Ebooks

In addition to these great options, you can also get a free six-month trial Amazon Prime Student membership just for having a school email. With Amazon Prime, you get free two-day shipping, as well as plethora of other great resources. I highly recommend it (and this is coming from someone who has been using Prime for 8+ years). Sign yourself up here!

Extra Bonus Tip: Invest in a Kindle Fire tablet so that you can buy ebooks and stop worrying about lugging around a ton of textbooks. I purchased a Kindle Fire and it paid off itself after one term. I ended up saving hundreds of dollars because ebooks are cheaper, and I could even rent some of my texts for a set number of days!

Purchase the Right School Supplies

I have an entire post on must-have school supplies for college students, but since online learning may require some different/extra items, I figured I’d include them below:

  • Laptop – Seems obvious, but you’ll want to have something easy to carry around. Be sure to keep an eye out for things like memory capabilities, screen/sound quality, and processing speed. I personally like the Apple MacBook Air because it’s light to carry and has just the right amount of power for everything I need.
  • Webcam – A lot of professors are beginning to require video chats or presentations with students, so you’ll want to have a good webcam on-hand for when that moment comes
  • Headphones with microphone – Block out surrounding noise, listen to a lecture without bothering others, and communicate with classmates without having to worry about holding a phone to your ear

Read the Course Syllabus

This is a very important tip for being a successful online college student! Since your professor is not there in person to walk you through how their class is going to operate or how things are going to be graded, you are responsible for reading that information on your own.

The syllabus for online courses is typically very detailed and will outline what readings are required, how participation is graded, what tests you will have, and what essays you may be required to write.

Make sure that you read the syllabus the very first day, or even a few days prior to the course starting (if you have access to it). If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask your professor; they are there to assist you in any way that they can.

Be assertive and ask about anything you are unsure of!

[RELATED] 5 Things You Should Do on the First Day of College Classes

Attend Class Regularly

Attendance is still very important when taking classes online. Most schools require discussion participation at least a few days each week.

The discussion questions take place of the lecture that you would normally see in a regular class. Participating in discussions not only helps you learn the material better, but it also gives you the opportunity to earn participation credit which can severely help or hurt your grade in the long run.

Attending class regularly also keeps you in the loop as to what is going on in the course.

For example, your professor may post some interesting articles or remind you of an upcoming assignment that is due in the near future. I found my professors to be very involved in the course discussions and they often gave us pointers as to how to improve our assignments so that we could all be successful.

Manage Your Time Wisely

Being a successful online college student requires setting time aside for studying and completing assignments. Online college students often find that they have to read a lot of material to make up for not having a lecture from a professor.

If you aren’t good at prioritizing your time, you may want to start off with a low number of hours. The last thing you want is to pay for a course and then fail because you weren’t prepared!

Distance education is great because it gives you the freedom to work and study at your convenience, but that doesn’t mean that you can procrastinate and not study at all – It takes dedication and time, but I promise that if you put forth the effort, you will learn a lot and see great results.

Bonus Tip for Being a Successful College Student: In my courses, I had a couple chapters of reading that were covered each week. I made it a personal goal to complete all of my weekly assignments by Saturday morning at the latest (even though they weren’t due until Sunday at midnight). By completing my assignments, I had Saturday night and Sunday to complete my reading for the next week. This worked out really well for me and helped me to manage my course load a lot better. If this works for you, great! If not, find something that does work for you and stick to it!

[RELATED] Stress-Free Scheduling (a Time Management Course for College Students)

I also recommend reading the following posts to help you manage your time better and improve your study habits:

Stay Organized

I highly suggest getting a planner or calendar of some sort to keep track of your course assignments and due dates.

I relied heavily on my planner when I was an online college students! My professors outlined all of the due dates in the course syllabus, so i was able to know exactly when everything would be due from day one.

Here are a few planners I have personally used and recommend:

  • Bloom Daily Planner – Great for keeping track of daily assignments (I would write down each assignment and check them off as I completed them)
  • Day Designer – Available in different styles and formats so that you can find the best fit for your needs! I like the To Do list with checkboxes on mine because it helped me keep my schedule separate from my tasks.
  • Action Day Planner – I relied on this one heavily in grad school because it included an hourly schedule for weekdays, as well as various places to keep lists and take notes

Turn in Assignments On-Time

Most online courses give you until the end of the week to turn in your weekly assignments. Papers and other special projects may have different due dates, so pay close attention to those.

It’s extremely important that you turn in your assignments on-time because once they are late, you will often get docked a certain percentage or amount of points. This really adds up and can be the difference between letter grades at the end of the term.

Take Note! Online classes may require that you turn in an assignment according to the time in a different time zone.

Network with Your Professors and Peers

Since you aren’t in a regular setting, it can be easy to stay focused on yourself and not engage in conversations with your professors and peers (except when you are required to, of course).

Unfortunately, you are missing out on valuable connections when you do this.

You never know when someone could be the link that helps you get a new job or opportunity, so don’t be afraid to assert yourself and build those connections! LinkedIn is always a great place to start if you need ideas.

I hope these tips for being a successful online college student help you achieve your educational goals within the comfort of your own home. And if you have any online learning experience, I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

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  • Dezi
    September 27, 2015 at 5:30 am

    Love your tips! You don’t really find many tips about taking online classes even though they’re increasingly popular!

    • Tori
      September 27, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Thanks Dezi! Online classes are definitely growing in popularity and I think that you need to learn an entire new approach to them if you want to be successful. These tips definitely worked for me!

  • Bob
    June 12, 2019 at 5:08 pm

    I like your tip about setting a schedule to stay focused on studying. That makes sense considering you don’t want to fall behind with the assignments. I’ll have to consider getting a calendar to mark important test dates.