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Academic Success Center

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Success Tips for Online Summer Courses if it’s Your First Time in College Events


Success Tips for Online Summer Courses if it’s Your First Time in College

Online summer courses are a great way to expedite your progress in college but it’s important to be aware of their unique challenges. If this is your first time in college and you’re taking an online, 8-week summer course, we have some tips to help set you up for success.
What to expect from an eight-week online, summer course
Key Points:
  • Course content moves quickly
  • Keep up with reading and homework
  • Online courses can be easier to forget about
The most important point to remember is that an eight-week class moves very quickly—nearly twice as fast as a regular semester and much faster than a typical high school course. Skipping one class can be the content equivalent of skipping multiple classes in a row during a regular 15-week semester. For reference, the first exam might be as soon as two weeks into an 8-week course, whereas the first exam might not be for four weeks in a 15-week course.
Keeping up with reading and homework assignments is crucial because it’s easier to fall behind. For example, you will be expected to spend time reading, studying, and doing homework before each class.
Online courses can be easier to ignore or forget about, especially if the lecture isn’t “live.” You’ve likely already experienced some of this during these last few months if your high school classes were moved online. The key is to be honest, diligent, and aware—we’ll talk about how to achieve this in the subsequent sections.
Be intentional about establishing new habits
Key Points:
  • College provides less structure and is more demanding than high school
  • Honestly evaluate ways you can improve
  • It’s better to establish new habits now
Transitioning from high school to college can be a trying time for even the highest achieving students. High school is a highly structured learning environment in which teachers have more opportunities to meet with you in and out of the classroom. In college, however, a majority of the learning takes place outside of the classroom and material is covered at a much faster pace. In high school, sometimes you had an entire academic year to learn a core subject, while in college that same material will be covered in about half that time, or in this case, eight weeks.
Now is a good time to intentionally begin to incorporate new habits into your daily life.  What you need to be successful in college is good time management, motivation, and a solid routine. Spend a few moments and honestly evaluate where you stand in those three areas. Maybe you want to begin using a planner, start working on homework as soon as it’s assigned, take more notes when you read, or put your phone away during any academic task. Assess what works for you and change what doesn’t.
Solidify a Healthy Routine
Key Points:
  • Give your day purpose by maintaining structure
  • Small, intentional actions put you in the right frame of mind
  • As much as possible, recreate an in-person class experience
Keeping up a healthy routine looks like going to bed and getting up at the same time each day; watching a recorded lecture at the same time of day; and also reading, doing homework, and studying at the same times. This structure gives your day purpose and ensures you get your work done.
Usually, it’s the small, intentional actions we take every day that help put ourselves in a mindset of readiness. We recommend these actions below to solidify or bolster your routine:
  • Watch for changes in sleep patterns. There are a lot of reasons why a person can sleep poorly. Some of those reasons might be serious, like depression, stress, or anxiety; but sometimes we just stay up late because we like to do it.  Be aware of the reason why your sleep patterns might be changing and either talk to your doctor or a therapist about it or just make adjustments as necessary.
  • Wear clothes that you would normally wear to class. Just like changing into comfortable pajamas signals your brain it’s time to go to sleep, getting dressed for the day is another form of mental preparation. It’s a small action that tells your brain, “It’s time to get to work!”
  • Consider taking a walk between classes.  Before the onset of COVID-19, classes were held at the same times each day and there were at least 20 minutes in between so students would have enough time to get to their next class. Recreating this can give you a mental and physical reset before your next class or activity.
  • Set aside time every few days to review and study. This is different from reading for class and doing homework. Look at your planner or calendar and schedule time to review what has been covered over the past couple of classes. Ask yourself how the new material relates to the older material and how does it all fit together in the context of the class. Make sure you can solve problems without any help from notes.
Set up a school/study environment at home
Key Points:
  • Create a dedicated space for working and studying
  • Communicate your needs to the people you live with
  • Find the most reliable connection
Some of you might be living with parents, siblings, roommates, or possibly friends this summer. Even if you’re not, it’s important to create a good working and studying environment. Find a space that you can dedicate to “attending” online classes and studying. It might be your dining table, it might be a home office, it might be just a corner of a shared bedroom—regardless, set it up so that your brain knows “when I’m in this space, it’s time to focus.”
Sometimes shared space and resources inside the home is at a premium and taking up an entire room for yourself isn’t an option—just do your best. Communicate with the people you live with about your need for quiet and access to technology. One idea is to share your schedule with your family or roommates. Letting everyone know about your class and study schedule can help with accountability and also avoid unnecessary interruptions.
Make sure where ever you decide to set up your dedicated work space that it has reliable internet connection. A hard-wired connection is most stable and ideal for situations where you’re expected to perform (like on an exam or during a presentation). Practice using the technology before you need it, just to make sure.
Develop Relationships
Key Points:
  • You’re not expected to do everything by yourself
  • Focus on developing relationships with professors and classmates
  • The university has many academic resources available at no extra cost
Remember, you are not expected to figure everything out by yourself. There are many ways to get extra help but it’s your responsibility to set them up. Focus on developing relationships with your professors and your classmates.
Initiate contact with your professors and introduce yourself. Then, continue to communicate with them, especially if you have questions or concerns about content or your performance in class. If you have an unstable internet connection, make them aware before a problem arises if possible.  
Relationships with your classmates are equally invaluable. Reach out to other students in class to form virtual study groups. Upperclassmen who have reflected on the things they did that helped them perform better in college include forming good study groups.
The university also has many academic resources dedicated to helping undergraduate students. The Academic Success Center and Math Learning Center both offer many styles of online tutoring this summer. At the University Writing Center, you can set up an online appointment to talk one-on-one with a writing consultant through video chat to get help with any type of writing or speaking project (even if it’s not for school). Similarly, at the Academic Success Center, we have a service called academic coaching where you can work privately with a professional staff member who can help you develop good habits, like all the ones discussed in this handout. We couldn’t cover all the academic resources here, but you can check out these units on your own time as a starting point:
Academic Success Center
University Writing Center
Math Learning Center
University Libraries

For a list of all the programs and services that have been changed in response to COVID-19, visit the Undergraduate Studies website.

Last Updated: 01/28/2021

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License. You may reproduce it for non-commercial use if you use the entire handout and attribute The Academic Success Center, Texas A&M University.