How to Succeed in an Online High School

Posted on June 22 2020

Student working on courses online.

When the COVID-19 crisis hit, a lot of high school students who never intended to be online learners suddenly found themselves being just that, online learners. This felt like uncharted territory for many but this is actually an experience a lot of students have been through before. Every year, tens of thousands of students are pushed out of school by illness, injury, bullying, mental health issues, family emergencies, or disciplinary issues, and have no choice but to learn online. 

We’ve worked with lots of students like this. And so we can guide you on what you need to do if you suddenly become an online high school learner and want to succeed.

Find reliable internet

This might seem like an obvious step, but it’s one that a lot of students don’t consider at first. If you don’t have a reliable internet connection at home, or your home isn’t a good place to study for whatever reason, you need to find a place where you can connect, and where you can go day after day. And the “day after day” part is important, because knowing where you can absolutely go to connect to your classes means you’ll have one less decision to make each day.

Get a computer

This is another thing that a lot of people take for granted. And a lot of students figure they can “get by” with a smartphone. Many can, for a short time, but that’s not the ideal situation. You don’t need a perfect computer, but we highly recommend a laptop that is yours and yours alone, and that you can “grab and go” if the place you are trying to study ends up being a bad place to study, for whatever reason. A very basic laptop, like a Chromebook, costs from $250 to $350 new, and a good used one can be as cheap as $99. That’s very inexpensive when it comes to computers, but that’s still A LOT of money to many people. Your local school district is the first place to go if you’ve suddenly found yourself learning online after attending regular classes. Most districts have “loaner” technology for at least some students. Local businesses often have older tech they’re not using anymore. It doesn’t hurt to make a call to ask — just make sure to explain why you’re asking. Churches are another place that sometimes have old or extra computers that can be loaned out. Also, community colleges, universities and government agencies often have “surplus” computers that, while by no means new, are still perfectly good for online learning and can be purchased on the cheap. 

Open a Google Account     

Cloud storage is essential for online learners. You’re going to need a place to keep your papers and study materials, and hard drives crash, break and can be lost or stolen. There are plenty of cloud options, but Google Drive is free, has lots of space, and is very reliable. 

Become your biggest advocate

Nobody really likes asking for help. And in a traditional learning setting, students often don’t need to ask for help, because many teachers (although certainly not all of them) are quite good at recognizing when a student is struggling. Online it is harder to stand out in this way, so it is really, really important that you get used to using the words “I don’t understand this and I need help.” 

Be flexible     

Now, perhaps more than ever before in your life, you’re going to need to learn to “roll with the punches.” That’s especially true if your teachers are also suddenly adjusting to online learning. They’re going to struggle at first, too. Build in extra time to do everything, at least at first, because there are a lot of things that can go wrong when you’re doing something for the first time. With time, it will become easier for everyone.

Predict the future         

The absolute best thing you can do to succeed as an online high school learner is to get ahead. In some cases that’s easy, because the content for the entire course is available up front. In other cases, content only gets revealed when the teacher is ready to reveal it. In the latter case, try to predict what you’ll be learning about. If you’ve been moving through an online textbook chapter by chapter, you can be pretty sure that the time spent on Chapter 4 will be followed by Chapter 5. If you spent the past week on the Civil War, it’s very likely that the coming week will be spent studying the period after the Civil War (a time known as Reconstruction). Read ahead. Watch videos. Do some internet research. It will pay off! 

Don’t listen to naysayers  

There are people who will tell you that online learning isn’t good. Others will tell you that only certain types of people can be successful online learners. These people might be well-meaning, but they’re wrong. Just like classroom learning, online learning can be good or bad, depending on who has developed the curriculum and who is teaching the class. And just like in a traditional learning environment, there’s no such thing as a “type” of student who will absolutely succeed or a “type” of student who will absolutely struggle. With the right combination of flexibility and support, anyone -- absolutely anyone -- can be a successful online learner.