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How to make college from home work for you

Everything you need to ace the fall semester without leaving the house.

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College student Zooming with friends

College is going to be a lot different this fall, with many schools moving toward a hybrid model of in-person and online classes. If you're not used to taking courses from home, you might need to invest in some new furniture and technology to make it work. Having the right set up and a solid plan for the semester can help you make the most of this new normal.

Download a printable college-from-home checklist

College-from-home essentials

Having the right equipment can make the whole going to class and studying from home thing a lot easier. Like getting a standing desk to keep your legs from cramping. Or an extra monitor so you can actually take notes and watch your professor's lecture at the same time.

Product buying guides

These guides can help you shop around for a deal on the essentials you might have otherwise found on campus. Like that morning — OK, afternoon — cup of coffee.

Software, Internet and communication shopping guides

Going to school from home also means you won't be able to use your school's Internet or software. Here's where to start if you need an upgrade.

Staying happy and healthy

One thing we've all learned from quarantine is that staying at home all the time is really hard on the brain and body. These tools can help you keep on top of your mental and physical health.

Where to buy essentials online

Avoid the stores to find the basic supplies you'll need to hunker down next semester.

College-from-home checklist

You'll probably need at least some of these basics to make your semester at home a success.

  • Laptop or desktop computer. You won't be able to access your classes, write papers or participate in projects without your own computer.
  • Headphones (with a microphone). These are key to participating in a class on Zoom, Skype or Google hangouts.
  • Stable Internet connection. And try to find one without a data cap, so you don't accidentally Netflix your way out of access to a final exam.
  • VPN. A VPN tricks software into thinking you're in another location and is key to logging into accounts that are only accessible from campus computers.
  • Study space. Try to create a space that you can leave when you're done with your schoolwork — even if it's just a desk and chair in your bedroom.
  • Software. Make sure your computer at home has the tools you need for your classes, like Microsoft 365.
  • Notebooks and pens. Sure, you can take notes on your computer. But if you're used to taking notes by hand, continuing that practice can help you adjust to the new format.
  • Second monitor. Another screen can be a life changer. It lets you see your classmates and take notes at the same time — and can make doing research for a paper way easier.

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What college-from-home expenses can I pay for with my student loans?

Anything that's necessary for you to attend classes is something you can cover with student loans. It's part of what your school calls the "cost of attendance," which is the maximum you can borrow in an academic year.

While it won't include a streaming service subscription — unless you're taking film studies — you can usually cover the following costs:

  • Rent and utilities — including Internet
  • Food costs
  • Laptops and monitors
  • Desks and chairs
  • Office supplies
  • Software
  • Transportation if you're attending class part time

If the loans you're expecting for next year won't cover all of these expenses, reach out to your school's financial aid office and explain the situation. They'll likely be able to adjust your estimated cost of attendance and notify your lender.

Compare private student loan offers today

If you're out of federal loan options, you may be able to get the funding you need with a private student loan. Check out these lenders to start comparing your options.

Data indicated here is updated regularly

Name Product Min. Credit Score Max. Loan Amount APR
Discover undergraduate student loans
Not stated
Cost of attendance
Variable APRs: 1.24% – 10.99%
Fixed APRs: 4.49% – 12.39%
Get cash back for good grades with this private student loan provider.
Sallie Mae Student Loans
Not stated
Cost of attendance
4.25% to 12.35%
Choose from over 8 different options for undergraduates, law students and more.
College Ave undergraduate student loans
Not stated
Cost of attendance
1.24% to 11.98%
Rates start at 2.84% for residents of all 50 states.
Earnest Student Loans
650
Cost of attendance
Starting at 1.24%
Undergrad and graduate financing with a nine-month grace period.
SoFi Student Loans
680
Full cost of attendance
1.90% to 11.76% with autopay
Undergraduate financing with no late fees to US citizens with good credit.
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Compare up to 4 providers

Pros and cons of taking college classes from home

Taking classes from home can be an adjustment, but it's not all bad. Here are some of the benefits and drawbacks to expect.

Pros

  • Save on cost-of-living expenses, like food and housing
  • Remote courses tend to have more flexible hours
  • Easier to balance a job with coursework
  • Pushes you to learn how to use new technology — that you can then add to your resume

Cons

  • Not as social as living on campus
  • Easier to slack off in class or procrastinate
  • More difficult to develop a relationship with professors
  • Less support from university staff

How to overcome challenges of going to college from home

You might have to make a few adjustments to get the most of your college-from-home experience. Here's how to deal with some of the common troubles remote learners face.

Schedule out your day to avoid distractions

Remote learning is more flexible, but that can have its downside. Managing your time can be a lot more difficult when you don't have somewhere to physically go every day. And having to go out can keep you from sleeping till 3 p.m.

Try to create a schedule to structure your days and break up assignments so you don't end up scrambling at the last minute. Make sure to give yourself enough breaks so it's something you can stick to without getting burnt out. You might also want to change it up on different days of the week so you don't get bored.

Create a workspace that’s specifically for taking online classes

Another major challenge online learners face is separating home life from coursework. Using a work space exclusively for classes and studying can cut down on the stress that comes from being in the same place all the time. If you can work in another room, great. But even setting up a desk in your bedroom that you only use for school can make a difference.

Meet with your professor early on and ask about class expectations

You're going to have to make more of an effort to make an impression on professors when taking classes online. Try to schedule a separate meeting early on in the semester so they can get to know you. And if you're confused about how certain aspects of the course will work — Will that final presentation be online or in person? — take this as an opportunity to ask.

Unless you go to a school that regularly offers remote classes, your professor might be equally unfamiliar with this new setup. Regular communication can help you make sure you're meeting the standards for your various classes.

Take advantage of video conferencing and virtual hangouts to get to know your classmates

Nobody would claim that hanging on Zoom is as fun as hanging out IRL. But it can be the next best thing, especially if you're feeling isolated. Reach out to your classmates to hang out away from the professor — and try to make it a regular occurance.

You can mix it up and break the ice by picking a theme each week. But it doesn't have to be that formal. It can be incredibly cathartic to just sit and commensurate with your peers.

Accept that technical issues will come up — just keep your professor and classmates in the loop

You probably don't have an IT department at home. And when your classes depend so much on technology, mistakes are bound to happen. For example, if your Internet cuts out when you're supposed to be in class, communicate with your classmates and professors as soon as possible. They may be able to help you out of your situation — or at least make adjustments to accommodate you.

Communication is key to having a successful career. Think of this semester as an opportunity to hone that skill.

Take advantage of mental health resources to keep anxiety about the future at bay

Not knowing what the future will hold can be scary. And being stuck at home often makes that worse. If you're feeling anxious this semester, you don't have to grit your teeth and power through.

Reach out to your student adviser to talk about it — they might be able to help put things into perspective. And if you need more support, contact your school’s mental health department to find out what other resources are available to you.

7 ways to make the most of your at-home college experience

These tricks can help you stay focused and on top of your classes.

  • Have a plan for the semester. Once you know what assignments you'll need to complete, give yourself goals throughout the semester to keep yourself on track.
  • Participate. It's easy to stay silent on Zoom. Speak up in class to stay engaged — and clarify anything you don't understand. It'll help you win points with your teacher, encourages other students to speak up and can help you feel less isolated.
  • Block out distractions. Download a web blocker if you find it hard to focus while you're studying at home.
  • Lose the phone. It's a lot easier to be on your phone instead of paying attention to an online class. Try turning off your phone in situations where you wouldn't have it out in person. Or use an app blocker like Freedom to keep you from scrolling through Instagram when you should be studying.
  • Exercise. Now that you aren't walking around campus, you'll need to make time for physical activity. Even light exercise is great for both your physical and mental health.
  • Subscribe to a meal kit. If you find yourself cooking for the first time, invest in a meal delivery kit like Blue Apron or HelloFresh. These can keep you from eating ramen and pizza every day and teach you how to cook without having to suffer through months of gross meals.
  • Bring the dorm to you. Hanging out with friends or classmates on Zoom while you're studying or making dinner can help if you're missing that feeling of dorm life.

Bottom line

Remote learning has its challenges. But you can make it a rewarding experience with a little planning and effort. If you don't have the funds to make changes to your living space or buy the tech you need, our guide to student loans can help you find financing.

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