This article, which has been reprinted with the permission of author Lucy Markham, explores some of the challenges online students face and how to deal with them to get the most you can out of your education.

The challenges faced by a new college student are pretty clear: how to deal with a roommate who never does the dishes, how to finish all of your homework while still getting some sleep, how to live off meals that can be cooked in a microwave, etc.

Online education has been developed for students who want something different than the on-campus, ramen-eating college life. People who take online classes face an entirely different set of challenges, but they are challenges nonetheless. Here is your survival guide for an online education:

 1. Become self-motivated.
Traditional college settings require some motivation as well (after all, you do have to get out of bed to attend class), but those students have assigned times to show up and repercussions if they are not there. Online courses are trickier because they are done on your own time. Just because you can work when it’s convenient for you doesn’t mean that you should save all of your lectures and assignments for one long, caffeine-induced all-nighter. Focus on the reason you are in school—whether it be your dream job, a promotion, or a new skillset—and get the work done.

2. Schedule your time.
To ensure that you complete work on time, plan when you will get online for class. Then commit, even when you don’t want to get up or you are exhausted from work; otherwise, you may end up spending the hours you’ve agreed to study watching YouTube videos of cats playing the piano.

3. Get a computer . . . a good one.
This should go without saying, but you need a computer to take classes online. Remember, almost everything involving your education will involve this one piece of technology, so get something you like. Laptops are great for taking your work on the go. Whatever model you choose, it helps if the computer has a good processor and a great Internet connection. Trying to upload an assignment or take a test will only become frustrating if your computer shuts down or your connection is slow.

4. Make use of your resources.
One benefit of online classes is the unique virtual platform they offer. If your school allows you to video chat with professors or work virtually with other students, take advantage of the opportunity. Some colleges and universities even have mobile apps and websites that will keep you connected wherever you are.

5. Get out!
Staring at a computer all day is never a good idea. Get a bit of the traditional college experience by going out whenever it makes sense. If you need to do research for a paper, check out some books at the local library. Even if you aren’t eating solely microwavable food, take a break from class and go for a walk. Discuss your classes with coworkers. Take your work outside. Although online education involves a lot of solo work, you can still share the experience.

Online classes are an increasingly popular alternative for those who can’t attend school on campus. The atmosphere may be different, but hard work is still required if you want a quality education. Follow these tips and before you know it, you’ll be well on your way to a degree.

Lucy Markham worked as an academic and career counselor for three years while earning her B.A. in English from the University of Florida. She is currently pursuing her M.A. in Education from the University of Utah.

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