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6 tips for success in your first term learning online

Ecampus graduate, Daniel Robertson uses tips for success as he studies at a laptop with a textbook open on the table.

Oregon State University graduate Daniel Robertson gained essential skills for success throughout his time learning online with OSU.

Advice from Oregon State University student success experts

By Carly Johansen

Whether you’ve already earned a college degree or you’re starting at a university for the first time, it’s smart to set intentions and checkpoints for your time as an online student. 

So we called in the experts — the stellar Oregon State University Ecampus student success team — and they broke it down. Here are six tips for success on exactly how you can set yourself up for greatness in your first term online with Oregon State. Set aside an hour of your time to complete these self-checks, and you’ll be succeeding in no time.

Discover your why

American author Simon Sinek came up with the concept of finding your why after feeling lost in his work. At its core, finding your why is about knowing what compels you.

Oregon State Ecampus success coach Bethany Ulman says, “Understanding and exploring your motivation helps you in the beginning and keeps you on track during the times it gets rough.”

If you’re having trouble getting started with this, consider setting a five- or 10-minute timer to write down your thoughts on the following:

  • Why are you pursuing this academic program?
  • What are you hoping it will help you achieve?
  • What made this goal important enough to pursue now?

That’s your why. Keep those written answers somewhere that you’ll see them regularly. Those driving forces can help you when you’re feeling unmotivated.

Know your schedule

You probably navigate work, spending time with family and friends and community commitments. You know how to make it all work, but adding school into the mix can be like trying to jam another piece of laundry into an already full washing machine. It’s pretty easy to throw things out of balance. 

An easy way to evaluate how you’re actually spending your time is to complete a time audit. You can do this by writing down your responsibilities hourly for a week. Once you finish your audit, go through and categorize how you’re spending your time. Categories could include family, screen time, work, friends, hobbies, sleep, downtime or anything else you see emerging as a pattern.

After you’ve done all of that, take a look at where you can fit in online coursework. Be sure to answer these questions for yourself:

  • Which categories could you spend less time on?
  • How many hours do you have per day/week to dedicate to school?
  • Where do you see coursework fitting into your schedule? Consider highlighting or otherwise marking this time physically on your audit.
  • What boundaries are you willing to set to protect your various time commitments?

Allow yourself some flexibility in your schedule for unpredictable events or situations, too. Living a fulfilling life means you’ve got to regularly work in some fun.

Keep yourself organized

Find your best method for organization. Write out your strategy for staying organized. Pro tip: Don’t be afraid to adjust. If something isn’t working, you can always take a new approach.

Consider the following, then write down a game plan using “I will” statements:

  • How do you prefer to manage your coursework?
    • Do you start the term by writing down every assignment from your syllabus with regular reminders, or would you prefer to review upcoming assignments on a weekly or monthly basis?
  • How will you track assignments and tasks? 
    • Will you use a paper planner, a whiteboard, a sticky note system, weekly to-do lists or an app?
  • How do you approach larger projects?
    • Do you prefer to take on and complete a big project all in one go, or is it easier for you to break up elements of an assignment? Setting smaller checkpoints and working toward a larger goal is a common method for success for most.
      • Consider how you might break down a writing assignment. It could flow something like: read the chapter, identify key points, create an outline, write the assignment, proofread, submit.
  • Where will you study?
    • Do you prefer a quiet environment or a bustling one?
    • Are you able to leave home to study, or can you designate a specific space where you won’t be disturbed?
      • The OSU Ecampus success coaches strongly recommend establishing a dedicated study space, if you’re able, with your computer, course materials and assignment information all in one place.

Explore your tools

You wouldn’t start a road trip without a map – or at least some idea of where you’re headed. Similarly, you should brief yourself on Oregon State’s important learning tools early in your first term so that you can confidently navigate your student experience. 

Here are a few tools you should bookmark:

  • Canvas is OSU’s online learning management system. You’ll use it for all of your classes for everything from syllabi to lectures to assignment submissions and more. Your Ecampus orientation happens on this platform, and you can get even more practice with our first-term success course (details below) or Oregon State’s handy guide to the platform.
  • Beaver Hub is where you’ll find all things administration. You can check out your class schedule, view your academic progress and contact important resources like your academic advisor, the Office of Financial Aid, and Disability Access Services. Get a brief overview through the OSU Beaver Hub startup guide.
  • Office365 is OSU’s official productivity platform. Office365 ensures students have access to essential programs like Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint and, most importantly, Outlook for your Oregon State email. Check out this overview from University IT to see all the services.
  • Oregon State Libraries are an essential resource for topic materials and texts. As an Ecampus student, you’ll have full online access to all OSU Libraries, as well as the physical locations in Corvallis, Newport and Bend. You can have books shipped to your home or access a huge repository of online materials. They even have a Canvas course to help you get to know all things OSU Libraries.
  • TutorMe is available exclusively to Ecampus students with five free tutoring sessions each week. You may not need help at the beginning of the term, but you should familiarize yourself with the service and before you’re in need.

Rally your support network

Having the right support matters. On days when you are struggling to find motivation or are dealing with heavy life events, it’s essential to have a group of people you can lean on. 

Identifying the folks in your corner right from the start of your academic journey can make all the difference. Ask yourself:

  • Who are the people I can count on to cheer me on?
  • Who can hold me accountable?
  • How will I know that it’s time to ask for help? What are some warning signs those around me might notice?

After you determine your people and your stress signals, reach out to them. Let them know how important they are to you, and ask if they’re willing to help you succeed as you start this chapter of your life. 

If you’re not sure who to turn to in your personal network, establish your support

Identify (and use) helpful resources

At Oregon State Ecampus, we make sure you have the support network you need from start to finish — and to actually put those resources to use.

As you embark on your academic journey, you should make use of these valuable resources:

  • Your instructors: Oregon State faculty should always be your first resource for help on course content. They hold virtual office hours because they want to hear from you. Introduce yourself early to create a more personal connection. Pro tip: Building a connection with your instructor can benefit you later if you need help or special circumstances are warranted or you need relevant career guidance.
  • Success coaches: The Ecampus student success team includes a group of trained coaches with one focus: supporting online OSU students like you. Meet one-on-one with a coach to help you transition to Oregon State, address academic and life challenges, and develop your skills as a student to feel confident throughout your coursework.
  • “Going Online” podcast: Created and produced by members of our success team, this show was designed for students like you. It covers topics like the Ecampus student perspective, the best way to connect with faculty, preparing for your first advising appointment and how success coaching could help you.
  • First term success course: This self-paced Ecampus prep course in Canvas will help you gain a better sense of what to expect and how to navigate challenges. If you’re an admitted student and would like to sign up, reach out to us
  • Exam proctoring: Proctored exams are supervised online tests that help ensure academic integrity. Our team can help you learn more about how proctoring works to help ease any anxiety you might have. Review the Proctorio Q&A for students to learn more. 
  • Academic Success Center: You can leverage the ASC for great advice and tools for getting started at Oregon State. Check out all they have to offer including the Writing Center, guides on setting up a study space and more.

Looking for more resources? Check out this handy list from our success team. 

These tips for success should feel actionable, not overwhelming. You’ve made it to your first term, and we’re sure you’ll make it to graduation, too, with the right tools to back you up.


Not sure where to start? We’re here to help! Reach out to the Ecampus Student Services to connect you with the right resources at or call 1-800-667-1465 (select option 1).

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