As the provincial governments announce their plans for its students to return to school in September, student life will look different due to public health concerns of the pandemic.   Most, if not all, post-secondary institutions have already announced either fully virtual or hybrid models of classes for the upcoming fall semester.  For many students, this will be their first time engaging with a full virtual course load, and I’ve already spoken to many students who have expressed their trepidation for online learning.  Not unlike most things in life, with the right attitude and proper preparation, you can succeed no matter your learning environment.

To maximize success during this school year, here are my recommendations for preparing for either virtual or in-person classes.

Preparing for virtual classes

If you’ll be taking virtual classes this year, there are some things you can do to enhance your learning experience and environment.  First, dedicate a space solely to your studies.  I recommend using a space that is free of distractions, well lit, comfortable (but not too comfortable that you’d rather sleep 😊) and contains a working electrical outlet to charge your laptop.  Second, create a consistent study plan to manage your studies accordingly.  This will help keep you focused and self-disciplined as you become accustomed to a less-structured environment.

Lastly, try your best to have the right attitude.  By approaching this new experience with positive thinking, you can benefit from better psychological well-being and better coping skills during times of stress.

If you’ve taken online courses in the past and weren’t too fond of them, I urge you to reflect on what caused you to feel that way.  In doing so, you can make appropriate adjustments to improve the experience this time around.  For example, you may choose to follow a strict schedule, integrate breaks into your studies, or reward yourself somehow for a job well done.  Or, you may choose to find a study buddy who can help keep you motivated as you learn together.  One of the biggest benefits of online learning is that it allows for flexibility, so use that to your advantage however you please!

If this is your first time taking online classes, I encourage you to go into it with an open mind and don’t allow others to influence your experience before it even begins.  Soon enough, you’ll be able to formulate your own opinion about online learning based on your firsthand experience.

Preparing for in-person classes

If you’re taking in-person classes, whether full or part-time, your physical health and safety, and your respect for the well-being of other students should be of utmost priority.  Ensure you are following the latest government health recommendations to stay protected and protect others while you study on campus.  Although it may be tempting to let your guard down, for example by removing your mask, you’ll need to stay vigilant and adhere to the rules.  Most educational institutions have prepared classrooms and hallways and even cafés to keep students safe, but you’ll need to do your part as well to stay safe.

As a result of being in closer contact with others, you may be feeling a bit anxious.  Even before the pandemic, 65% of post-secondary students reported experiencing overwhelming anxiety.  If you find yourself becoming overwhelmed and distracted by anxiety and fear, reach out to your Student Assistance Program (SAP) or to your health department for mental health support resources. Be prepared for whatever may happen this fall, including being asked to switch to online classes due to a second wave of COVID-19.

Consider your learning needs

If you currently have or have had challenges in the past with mental health issues or other disabilities that have affected your academics, consider speaking with your institution’s Accessibility Services department for in-course and test accommodations. Many students can benefit and all students have access to your school’s Learning Strategists, to help with time management, prioritization, procrastination and perfectionism issues.

Authenticate your experience

Although things will look differently this year, you can still create an authentic post-secondary experience.  Get to know your instructors and classmates, create online study groups and take advantage of any virtual events your post-secondary institution may offer.  Remember that you are all going through this unique experience together, so you are still able to create bonds and lasting memories despite not being physically together.

As you prepare for this upcoming school semester, I wish you a smooth transition to your “new” school environment and success in your studies.  And remember, your Student Assistance Program (SAP) is here to support you throughout your post-secondary experience with one-on-one, telephonic, or video counselling.