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Starting your first semester? 9 Tips to Get You on the Right Track

Man and Knightro excited about their first day at UCF.

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Congratulations! You’ve just been accepted to UCF Online and are excitedly awaiting the start of the semester. You’ve even completed the items on the semester checklist.

So what’s next? What else can you do while you prepare for this new journey? Our UCF Online success coaches share several actions you can take before the semester begins.

1. Make sure you have access to the necessary technology

As a fully online student, few things are more important than having the right tools and resources available to you as you embark on your online education journey. As such, make sure you have a high-quality internet connection and that your device(s) are in good working condition. Once you’ve registered for classes you’ll then want to spend time learning UCF’s learning management software, CANVAS, ahead of time to ensure you feel comfortable with it. You can also use this time to follow the suggestions about being social online and to review other useful resources.

2. Set realistic expectations

Make sure to set expectations for yourself that are both realistic considering existing commitments and reasonable for any other changes that may occur in your life. At UCF, a typical time commitment for studying is approximately three or more hours per credit hour. Take the time to determine how many courses your schedule can handle and to formulate an academic success plan that you can stick to.

3. Organize your schedule in advance with set times for study and assignments

Develop a plan for your time that you can stick to. This will help you schedule your time, complete assignments and generally manage your various commitments that have not paused for you to earn your degree. What is the first step? Select a master calendar where you can easily record and reference all your commitments. Doing this allows you to find heavy periods in advance and prepare for them by working ahead. When you study, do it in shorter sessions rather than longer periods to keep your energy up and avoid feeling overwhelmed.

4. Design your study space

Online classes typically don’t specify learning-space requirements, but designing your space or ambiance can help you stay focused during study periods. Think about dedicating a specific space to school tasks. Make sure the area is comfortable, conducive to studying and, if possible, secluded from distractions. Design your space to appeal to you visually or to create a learning mood. Include scents, sounds, photos and quotes that inspire and motivate you. Remember, your atmosphere will make all the difference in whether you can focus—and stay focused—during your study time.

5. Use a daily or weekly to-do list and color-coding

Avoid taxing your memory or forgetting assignments and appointments. Use a list to keep track of your more immediate obligations and to check them off when they are done. Checking off items on lists is also a great way to help you celebrate small successes and stay motivated. Color code your to-do lists. Matching them with your classes in Canvas and all the other materials you buy, like notebooks, will make checking everything at once easy and intuitive.

6. Create a reward system to keep you motivated

The reward system compliments your to-do lists and the semester plan you have established. Whenever you follow your established plan, set up a way to reward yourself, such as a snack, reading time or movie night. If people are the best motivator for you, consider making activities or quality time with family and friends as part of the reward. A reward system will keep you motivated and accountable throughout the semester.

7. Develop a note-taking system

Earning your degree online means you will be working in a fully digital environment, including using digital textbooks and online communication methods. Depending on the types of assignments, you may need to develop several strategies for keeping notes as you learn. Consider taking digital notes in Word or OneNote, or using an app such as Notability. Watching a video lecture? Have a note-taking file open to jot down key points and minutes/seconds of where to find them. This will make studying for tests and your final more manageable.

8. Be transparent with your community

Starting school involves a time commitment that may encroach on time dedicated to your family, friends or activities. Share this exciting decision with members of your community. Let them know details of your schedule, including the times that are dedicated to study and expectations for how they can interact with you during those times.

9. Connect with your network as soon as possible

Cultivating relationships is just as important to a fully online experience as to an in-person one. Knowing that you are understood, never alone, and have resources at your fingertips can help get you through the challenging times. Who should you connect with?

  • Your academic or program advisor — to help develop a plan for what classes to take and what order to take them.
  • Your professors—when your class is posted, introduce yourself to begin to build a rapport.
  • Your success coach—to connect you to resources that can help you further your academic goals and assist you in developing strategies that will help you be successful throughout your time with UCF Online. Do you know your coach by name? Find your coach here.

Before the semester starts, you may feel a mixture of excitement and anxiety as you think about how to best prepare for your educational experiences. But if you follow these suggestions from UCF Online coaches, you will be prepared to start the semester strong and to Charge On to academic success with the rest of Knight Nation!

About the Author

Jama Riley
Jama Riley
UCF Blogger