Laptop sitting on desk

How to Be Successful in the Virtual Environment: Part 2

Our Pre-College Program Assistant, Lydia McKelvie, shares tips and strategies to be successful in the virtual learning environment

Get comfortable   

Let’s be real, this has been a tough year for everybody. Maybe you are sad that you can’t be in-person for your classes. Maybe you are feeling burnt out and overwhelmed. I am right there with you! Some articles like this say that you should continue to dress like you are in an office setting to work at home, but personally I have found that it is best to just get comfy. It is difficult enough for me to get up at a regular hour anyway, so why would I add uncomfortable pants to the mix? Now, it does have to be said that this shouldn’t mean that you let go of all of your hygiene routines. Still shower regularly, wear clean clothes, wash your hair, etc. That will make you feel better and be more productive! All I’m saying is if it is difficult to motivate yourself to sit at your desk in a dress shirt to do your work, sit on your couch with a hoodie.  

Change up your environment  

One of the blessings-in-disguise about working from home is that you don’t have to be stuck in a certain place for hours on end. With the weather getting warmer, it may be a great time to do your homework or take your meetings from a park, a coffee shop with outdoor seating, or even just your backyard! I am taking all of my classes virtually right now, and what this winter taught me is that if I do not make an effort to change up my surroundings I become a bit of a Baba Yaga woman in dark recesses of my apartment. I have made an effort to try to do my readings from the park near my apartment and do my studying in local coffee shops, and I have found that it has done my mental health a world of good. Something about having people around, even distanced, and hearing the bustle of the world going on makes me feel way more motivated and less stressed about the state of things.  

Be flexible  

Listen, stuff happens. You couldn’t make class because the power went out in your home. Your cat needed to be taken to the emergency vet so you couldn’t quite finish your paper in time. You’ve just had a low-energy day so you didn’t get as much done as you wanted to. These are all things that have happened to me while participating in online classes, and you know what? It all ended up being okay in the end. While you are working from home, life is going to continue around you and will probably break into that designated “work” time. You will probably have days where you totally get off-schedule, and you may feel like that is a failure on your part. Be patient. Be kind to yourself. Also, as I will get into in the next tip, let people know if you need a little help.  

Self-advocate before it becomes a crisis  

Nobody is a mind-reader! Especially in this virtual environment, it can be difficult for professors to know if a student is struggling and be able to reach out effectively. Non-verbal cues are difficult to read over zoom and impossible over email. So, you will have to verbalize it when there is something that you need. I know that I am definitely a lone-wolf type of person, where I don’t want to feel like I am inconveniencing people or incapable of taking care of things on my own. However, as I said in the previous tip, stuff happens! Nobody is perfect and we all need help sometimes. The key is that you don’t want to bottle up what’s wrong and wait until it is a crisis before you reach out. Of course, sometimes crises emerge out of nowhere, but it is generally a good idea to identify problems at the onset. If you don’t understand the material at all, reach out to the professor or TA before the exam. If you know you will need an extension on a paper, ask before the day it is due. That will be better for your learning experience and a whole lot better for your mental health.  

Take care of your physical health  

You are not a machine! While working virtually may make it feel like there is always something you could be doing, it is important to keep in mind that you need to take time to rest and take care of yourself, whatever that means to you! For me, it means making sure that I eat relatively healthy meals and take time to do yoga at the end of the day to unwind. For others, that can mean having a consistent work-out routine, taking power naps between classes, going on walks with your dogs, etc. You can’t pour from an empty glass, so if you want to be productive that means you need to foster energy in yourself that you can put into your work.  

Treat yo’ self!  

Being a student at a school like WashU isn’t easy under the best of circumstances. Right now, combined with everything that’s going on, it can be downright exhausting. I know I am not the only one who is struggling to stay motivated, meet deadlines, and do everything that I need to do. That’s why I like to take a page out of my favorite TV show, Parks and Recreation’s, book and remember to treat myself! Even if I feel like I haven’t “done enough” that day, or if my paper wasn’t as “perfect” as I wanted it to be, I try to reward myself for doing my best, whatever that may be on that day. For me, treating myself usually involves taking time to cook a fancy meal for a friend, buying myself some new art-themed earrings that are on sale and I’m just dying to have, watching a few episodes of Parks and Rec while eating mint chocolate chip ice cream, or even taking a trip to my local art museum to visit my favorite painting.  


Lydia is a junior Art History major from Cookeville, TN. On campus, she participates in one of WashU's 14 A Capella groups, More Fools than Wise, as music director and social media chair. She is also a staff writer for Student Life, WashU's student run newspaper, and a student leader at Rockwell House Episcopal Campus Ministry. In her free time, Lydia enjoys catching up on historical dramas, trying new dessert recipes, and listening to far too much folk music. She has also spent the last year developing content focused on art, history, and fashion, for her YouTube channel that launched this August!