Whether due to our own actions or circumstances beyond our control, getting off track is unsettling. Thanks to COVID-19, this academic year has already been turned on its head. Some U.S. high schools re-opened their physical doors for a few days, only to close them again or at least require affected students to quarantine for several weeks. And some colleges, like The University of Texas at Austin, are already planning for worst- case scenarios, including closing the campus for at least the semester.
If you hope to graduate on time, plan now for alternative ways to complete the school year. While we should always hope for the best, it’s smart to stay flexible during uncertain times. Here are five tips to help you stay on track to finishing your degree, even if your college closes mid-semester.
Embrace Digital Textbooks
If your institution decides or is forced to close its doors in the fall or spring, instruction will probably continue online. While some students may already have experience in an online educational environment, others might find completing coursework online a serious adjustment. Switching from hard copy textbooks to digital can be awkward.
But, welcoming the change will help you quickly recognize the benefits of dropping the heavyweight of traditional textbooks. Some e-Textbooks are free, and others are available at a cost lower than their hard copy versions. Digital books also contain interactive elements such as audio and video.
Up Your Video Conferencing Skills
Using your mobile device for video-conferencing is possible, but a computer will probably be less of a headache. For starters, you’ll be able to navigate the screen easier with a touchpad or mouse. While you might already consider yourself tech-savvy, make sure your computer is ready to support the online platform. Update your computer peripherals and make sure the internet speed is sufficient to avoid video freezing and other computer issues.
If you can’t take part in class, you risk receiving a failing grade. Become familiar with the online educational interface as quickly as possible. Don’t let technical difficulties interfere with your ability to graduate on-time.
Increase Your Course Load, If Possible
Falling below full-time by dropping classes is a guaranteed way to delay graduation. But so is taking the minimum 12 credits a semester. While many schools consider 12 credits a full-time course load, this minimum will automatically delay graduation in a 120 credit hour program. Basic math shows that you’ll need an average of 15 credits each semester to finish college in four years. Contact the student services department for tips on how to best manage an increased course load in an online environment.
Put Financial Aid on Speed Dial
If you haven’t already done so, get the contact information of a financial aid officer. They can let you know how changes to instructional offerings and school closures/re-openings can affect tuition costs and financial aid awards. Changes to your enrollment status will likely require you to contact the financial aid office.
When you have a specific contact person, you might be able to get answers quickly. They should also be able to review your options for finishing the academic year with at least 30-semester credits and without risking your financial aid.
Stick to a Schedule
Time management is crucial for college success whether you’re taking classes in a traditional or online setting. However, online instruction allows for greater flexibility. Switching to virtual lessons can also make it easier to find excuses to skip class. Don’t give in to this temptation. If you’re used to taking your physical seat five minutes before class starts, do the same at home. Plan each day as if you were still attending a traditional classroom setting.
It’s easy for other responsibilities and interests to crowd out class time when you’re new to the online environment. Block time on your calendar for class preparation, homework, and review to stay on track toward graduation.
Life may be unpredictable, so focus on things you can control. Stay in communication with the college’s academic and financial aid offices so you’ll be ready to explore your options if the college interrupts instruction this academic year.