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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Columbia Barnard chapter.

Welcome back to Barnumbia wherever you are! Returning to campus is often filled with excitement and smiles as students reunite with their friends from across the country and chat about the fresh start that a new semester creates. Although this semester will be conducted entirely on Zoom, here are my top tricks for staying focused and making the most of it, while meeting new friends and staying connected to old ones. Tips 1 through 5 center around class while tips 6 through 10 are suggestions for socializing. What tricks work best for you?

 Find a location that works for YOU

One of the perks of Zoom classes is that you can do them from any location, so long as there’s an internet connection. You can connect to class from your home, but you can also tune in from literally any location. I love working outside and am looking forward to doing some of my classes while sitting on my front porch! Whether inside or outside, the key is to find a spot that you can sit comfortably in while remaining focused for an hour and 15 minutes.

When in class, keep your phone away from you

You wouldn’t have your phone out during a normal lecture or seminar, so try keeping your phone away from your computer to ensure it doesn’t easily distract you. If you absolutely have to have your phone with you, try silencing it. I like to use my Zoom classes as an opportunity to charge my phone; after class is over, it’s all charged up for whatever I might need it for!

Close out other tabs

Similar to keeping your phone in a separate location, I recommend closing out all browser tabs not directly related to class. This ensures you don’t get accidentally distracted by a Her Campus article or a Facebook post. Eliminating potential distractions enables you to stay focused on your class, the same way you might under normal conditions.

Get dressed for class

Even if you would normally wear pajamas all day at home, make sure to put on real clothes for class. My suggestion is: if you wouldn’t wear it to an in-person class, don’t wear it to your Zoom class. With so many changes to normal learning, try doing everything you can to normalize a completely remote semester. This includes actually getting dressed each day. If you get dressed for class, you will feel more purposeful.

Don’t Zoom from your bed

Sure, your bed may be comfy, and the thought of attending class from your bed is fun, but it probably isn’t the most conducive to an effective learning environment. Personally, I need separation between where I sleep and where I work. If I start doing Zoom classes from my bed, it’ll just make laying in my bed watching Netflix feel like work as well.

Host a virtual game night

My friends and I have played Cards against Humanity, Pictionary, and other online games while on Zoom calls with each other. If you’re feeling especially ambitious, you can also try playing Monopoly or other board games. If each person owns the game, you can all move each other’s pieces to set up the board the same way. The other great thing about holding game nights is that you can have your friends invite other people. Do some fun icebreakers at the beginning, and soon enough you’ll have new friends.

You don’t need Zoom Premium to hold Zoom meetings longer than 40 minutes

Each Zoom user has a personal meeting code and passcode. You can find yours by clicking “meetings” from the Zoom application home page. Your personal meeting ID will always be the same. When the 40 minutes run out, your friends can use the same link and login information to restart the meeting.

Join a club!

Just like under normal circumstances, joining a club is a great way to make friends because you’re automatically connected by a shared interest. Many clubs at Barnard and Columbia are in the process of recruiting new members; check your class Facebook group or attend the virtual activities fair to learn more.

Watch a movie together

If you aren’t already familiar with platforms like Netflix Party, definitely try it out. Netflix Party allows you to watch movies and TV shows with friends. With synchronized streaming and a chat feature, it’s similar to watching a movie together at school. Netflix Party isn’t the only option either. Platforms like Stream Lounge allow you to create virtual watch parties.

Consider writing letters to each other

This is my favorite suggestion! As much fun as virtual game nights are, it’s really healthy to take a break from staring at a computer all day. My friends and I wrote letters to each other last semester after everything went virtual. It was really fun and I got excited every time one arrived in the mail. They’re also fun to reread at a later time, and a great way to preserve memories. You can also make new friends through letter writing. Consider finding a penpal. There’s even a Facebook page called Barnumbia Snail Mail that’s dedicated to matching Barnard and Columbia students with each other to create a penpal network.

These are a few ideas I’ve found helpful for making the most of this strange semester despite the pains of remote learning and not being in the heart of New York City. Good luck with your classes and with staying in touch with friends. Have a great semester!

Carina Layfield

Columbia Barnard '23

Carina is a senior at Barnard majoring in Urban Studies and minoring in Italian. In her free time she enjoys discovering new recipes and spending time outside. She can be reached at crl2149@barnard.edu or @carina.layfield on Instagram.