by Emily Gunter

This year, many school districts kicked off the school year with students attending classes entirely online.

As a result, parents and students have had to learn how to adapt to online learning once again. Although the future remains uncertain, our college experts encourage students to find ways to stay focused on reaching their college dreams.

“Be willing to take baby steps every day even though it’s foggy, and you don’t know whether you’re headed in the right direction. I don’t believe that putting your life on hold is the best solution,” David Dillard, president of KD College Prep, told NBC 5.

Don’t let uncertainty steer you off the right track to your dream college. In this post, we’ll go over 15 back to school tips for students for the 2020 school year.

15 Back to School Tips for the 2020-2021 School Year

1. Stay Ahead as Long as You Can

While attending online classes, remember that your attitude about the start of the school year can impact your performance all year long.

It’s a lot easier to obtain an A if you start off the school year by doing your best rather than slacking off in the beginning and having to play catch up later on.

Mentally prepare yourself to put your best foot forward in the first half of the semester. Try to stay ahead as long as you can. You may be surprised by how far you’ll go.

2. Create a Daily Routine and Stick to It!

Raise your hand if you’ve attended at least one virtual class while wearing your pajamas. Many students practice the “roll out of bed and log on” approach to morning classes.

While the freedom of not having to get dressed up for class may have been a relief in the beginning of quarantine, by now you probably crave a return to some normalcy.

Developing a daily routine will keep you feeling refreshed and focused as you tackle your school work throughout the day.

Your daily routine will vary depending on your grade level, school, extracurriculars, and any other commitments you have throughout the day (such as a part-time job).

A few general tips for creating a daily routine:

  • Set a designated time to wake up, get dressed, and eat breakfast.
  • Follow your class schedule during the day, attending every class and activity.
  • Plan time in the evening to work on homework, projects, test prep, or college applications.
  • Set a designated bed time to ensure you get plenty of sleep each night.

3. Make a To-Do List

We recommend setting a list of goals for each day, month, and year. This to-do list may include homework, chores, healthy habits, test prep, creative projects, goals, or other items you plan to accomplish during a specific time frame.

Research shows that when you write your goals down, you are 42 percent more likely to accomplish them. Start small by writing down your plans for each day, and see if it helps boost your productivity.

Some of our students have found success in using the Bullet Journal method to develop their school planners. The Bullet Journal is a creative notebook organization system designed to help you stay on track and better measure your daily successes. It’s also a lot of fun!

4. Keep track of more than just homework deadlines

As a high school student, you have a lot on your mind. That’s why we recommend that you write down your deadlines all in one place.

In addition to homework due dates, your school planner should include your test prep schedule, upcoming test dates, extracurricular activities, and scholarship and college application deadlines (if you’re a senior).

5. Create a Comfortable, Distraction-Free Study Space

Rummaging through a cluttered desk or overhearing your parent’s conference call can easily break your focus. Find a quiet, clean space within your home to sit while you attend your classes.

If complete silence is hard to find, use headphones to drown out any background noise.

If you lose focus easily, keep all distractions “out of sight and out of mind.” This may involve placing your gaming console in a drawer, keeping pets in another room, or temporarily shutting off notifications for social media apps.

Make sure you are comfortable. Avoid sitting on the couch or in bed as this may cause you to become sleepy or hold your body in uncomfortable and awkward positions.

We recommend sitting at a desk or your kitchen table. Grab a comfortable chair that provides adequate back and neck support to avoid discomfort.

6. Communicate Your Schedule with Family and Friends

If the whole family is working from home, it may be tough to find time to focus on your school work.

By communicating with your mom and dad about when you plan to attend classes and work on homework, you can help give them peace of mind and prevent any random interruptions.

This same advice applies to your friends. Wait until after your studies to respond to your friend’s texts or jump into a game.

7. Take Breaks to Avoid “Cyber Sickness”

Teens have had to quickly adapt to the online learning environment, and some experience “cyber sickness” from staring at screens for long periods of time.

Cyber sickness is a feeling of discomfort or nausea that stems from spending too much time in the virtual world. The sensation is similar to motion sickness.

To prevent cyber sickness, doctors recommend managing screen time carefully and taking breaks from the computer in between classes and study sessions.

8. Stay Engaged by Participating and Asking Questions

When attending classes virtually, it can be challenging to stay engaged. Physically writing your notes can help you follow along and stay awake during class.

One nice thing about attending classes virtually is that you can sometimes ask and answer questions anonymously (depending on the teaching platform). This gives students more confidence to participate in class.

9. Falling Behind? Ask for Help!

While there are many positives to virtual learning, one negative is that you don’t have the option to walk up to the teacher after class to ask for additional help. However, don’t let this keep you from doing your best!

If you need help, don’t be afraid to ask! Send an email to your teacher explaining what you’re struggling with and try to schedule a time for you to work on the problem one-on-one.

If your teacher doesn’t respond right away, cut him or her a little slack. It’s been a very challenging school year for all teachers, and he or she may be overwhelmed by a high volume of tasks at that moment.

10. Try to Socialize Every Day

Attending school at home or socially distanced may cause feelings of isolation. However, a high school education should extend beyond academics. Knowing how to socialize and interact with others is a life skill that many colleges and employers look for in applicants.

Remember to make the effort to communicate with your friends on a regular basis or look for ways to make new friends.

While Snapchat and Instagram can help you keep up to date with what is going on in your friends’ lives, they cannot compete with a real conversation. Give your friends a call via FaceTime, Google Duo, or other video conferencing apps to ask how they are doing from time to time.

If you’re in need of new friends, join a small group that meets virtually, like a book club, school organization, or church group.

11. Stay Involved

You probably already know that extracurriculars and student involvement are an important component of your college application.

Many sports and student organizations are still meeting this fall from a safe social distance or virtually. A virtual band practice may not be as good as the in person experience, but some involvement is better than none!

If you were planning on joining a club or trying out for sports, evaluate the organization’s COVID-19 precautions. If you’ll feel safe joining, then go for it!

12. Plan Ahead for the SAT®, ACT®, or PSAT Tests

While some colleges will not require a test score when submitting college applications this year for general admission, the vast majority will still look at them when reviewing college applications.

Colleges may still require test scores for many of the more selective aspects of the college admissions process, such as selection for scholarships, in-state tuition, honors college placement, or admission to a competitive degree program.

Since test scores will still play a major role in college admissions this year, it’s important to plan ahead when registering for upcoming tests. Due to social distancing, spots will be limited, so be sure to register as soon as possible.

You may also consider traveling outside of metropolitan areas or places with high numbers of COVID cases to reduce the chances of a test center closure. This may involve traveling 1-2 hours away from home to take the test.

We recommend that students maximize their odds for taking the test by registering for as many tests as financially possible. A test score is better than no test score.

13. Use Your Time Wisely

If your time spent working on schoolwork has been reduced because of COVID-19, use that free time to do something worthwhile.

Here are some productive ways to spend your extra time.

14. Find Healthy Ways to Manage Stress

High school is stressful regardless if it’s online or in person. Your state of mind has a heavy impact on your performance in school.

If you’re experiencing high levels of stress, maybe it’s time to step back, take a deep breath, and evaluate how you feel.

We all strive to be happy, but sometimes that goal remains just outside our grasp. For tips on how to better manage stress, check out our post “How to Be Happy Anywhere (Even School),” written by a former KD student.

15. Start a Savings Account

Since you probably won’t go out to the movies or concerts with your friends, now is probably a good time to save up your cash for those big ticket items on your list.

Managing money is an important life skill that will take you far in life. It can give you independence and also help better understand the financial aspect of attending college or how to choose a career path.

Start by opening a savings account and set a goal of putting a certain amount in it every month. Overtime, you may save up enough to purchase a new laptop, your first car, or textbooks for all four years of college.

Need advice for applying to college in 2020?

Join KD College Prep for a FREE webinar: “What You Need to Know About The NEW College Admissions Process.” Learn more about test-optional colleges, changes to SAT® and ACT® tests, how colleges are adapting to a COVID-19 world, and expert recommendations to handle it all.

We also offer a wide range of test prep and college counseling services to help you get into the college of your dreams. Contact a campus near you to get started.

Emily Gunter is a marketing and communications specialist at KD College Prep.