Your peers will one day be your professional network. They might help you get a job, partner with you to start a business, or connect you to new workplace opportunities. Getting to know them while in school allows you to begin networking well before you graduate. But these cohort relationships aren’t just instrumental. The people you attend school with understand the challenges of balancing work, life, and school. They may share your anxieties about returning to school and graduating. Lasting relationships with this group offers support, employment opportunities, and a chance to commiserate when the going gets rough.
You don’t have to meet in person to form meaningful relationships. Indeed, in an era of social media, blogs, and online meetups, many people form their closest relationships with friends they see only rarely (or never even meet). Here’s how to get to know your cohort, even if you aren’t meeting face-to-face.
Study Via Online Video
Sure, you could have your spouse quiz you before a test or spend hours making outlines and paging through slides. But will you really make the most of your studying time that way? Your cohort is a ready-made study group. Try meeting for regular video study sessions via Zoom, Signal, FaceTime, Google Duo, or whatever other video conferencing platform your university utilizes. At SNU, all students have access to Google Hangouts, and it is a great option for online study sessions at no additional cost.
A number of collaborative strategies can help you make the most of these meetups:
- Try making a group study guide. Assign a few sections to each group member, then study from the end product. This ensures you get multiple perspectives on the information, and allows anyone with questions about the material to get help.
- Do a practice test together. Each group member might agree to devise a practice test at some point during the semester.
- Quiz one another on the material. This is a great way to connect and stay engaged, as well as study for an upcoming exam.
- Host a discussion group about the material. Quizzes and outlines are great study tools. If you really want to commit information to memory, though, find a way to make it relevant to your daily life.
Video study sessions don’t have to be very formal. Group members can come and go as is convenient to them. Just make sure you have an easy way to share the information you discuss during these meetings. A group message board, private Facebook group, or a Zoom call that allows you to share screens can work well.
Schedule Regular Meetups
When you’re already supremely busy, trying to plan regular meetups can feel like just one more item on an endless to-do list. Instead, commit to recurring gatherings based on milestones you’re facing in class or common interests shared among the cohort outside of school. Some great, low-effort options include:
- A regular Bible study date for those that are interested.
- A coffee date video chat scheduled following each major class milestone. For example, you might commit to meeting online three hours after each major test or project from the comfort of your own home.
- A quick weekly phone or video chat check-in to share notes and ask questions.
- An online group chat that you each commit to share notes and post questions to.
The goal here is to make meeting easy and low-key. Try taking a schedule poll at the beginning of each semester so you can discern which times and dates are most convenient for the majority of the group. Then agree to your meeting times all at once. If you’re constantly sending emails and texts trying to pin down each date, you’ll all feel exhausted. Pick some dates, put them on your calendar, and show up.
Follow One Another on Social Media
Social media offers a chance to get to know one another’s families, views, and values in a low-pressure setting. You may find you have interests you might never have otherwise discovered, or learn that you share some of the same parenting challenges. So agree to follow one another on social media.
When connecting on social media, keep the following best practices in mind:
- Ignore posts you disagree with. If you post controversial views, consider putting your classmates on a filter that prevents them from seeing these posts.
- Leave only positive comments on your classmates’ posts. Praise their work, their kids, or their unique insights.
- Try creating a social media messaging group, or create a private Facebook group to post notes, study tips, and other useful tidbits. This gives you another avenue to connect with each other and discuss schoolwork on a platform that is convenient to you all.
- Share helpful professional information on one another’s feeds. After all, you’re all working toward a common goal. If you see an opportunity that may be of interest to one of your cohort members, make sure they know you thought of them. It may even get them a job!
- Use social media to promote one another and network. Link your friends to internships and jobs, or if they achieve an important academic or work milestone, post public congratulations.
Talk About Your Lives
There’s only so much you can say about school, and only so much time you can spend on academic pursuits without getting burnt out. To truly take your friendship to the next level, you need to invest in one another’s lives. This makes time together feel like a relief from the academic pressures of everyday life, thereby encouraging you to spend more time together.
Of course, you’re not going to become overnight best friends. And trying to get too close too quickly can feel intrusive. So take it slowly and follow your classmates’ cues. Try asking some questions during study sessions or at the end of a group chat to learn more about one another. Some simple, easy starters include:
- Have you found any great activities to keep your kids occupied while you study?
- What are you hoping to do with your degree?
- Did you attend school somewhere else before you came here?
- Are you working? What did you do before you came to SNU?
- Do you know of any fun places to go around town? I’m sure you’ll all enjoy talking about your favorite spots to eat or hang out, especially now that it’s a lot more difficult to get out.
Don’t treat these questions like a script. The goal should instead be to learn more about the people you’re studying with, share more about yourself, and steadily foster a real relationship. Keep the conversation professional and collegial, not flirtatious. Attempting to begin a romantic relationship with your classmates can backfire spectacularly, especially if the other person feels harassed.
Another way to invest more meaningfully in one another’s lives is to offer help. If you know one of your classmates is struggling with a concept in class or has a personal roadblock they are trying to overcome, reach out and see how you can help. Oftentimes, just being a sounding board for support is all it takes to make someone’s day or help them through a time of need.
Get the Kids Involved
Every parent struggles sometimes with work-life balance. When you’re attending school on top of it all, that struggle can become even more difficult. So a great way to foster closeness with your peers while improving each other’s quality of life is to get to know one another’s kids. Try the following:
- If everyone is local, consider scheduling a recurring playdate for the kids. Although this may not be able to happen now given the Coronavirus pandemic, it’s something every online student should consider once things get back to normal.
- As you get to know one another, invite each other’s kids to family parties and kids’ birthday celebrations. This is a great way to not only get to know your cohort better, but also have your kids develop friendships.
- Schedule a Zoom chat with the kids. Each of you can take turns doing storytime or teaching a craft. This gives everyone a break, and can offer real value to parents who are struggling to find time to study.
- Fit studying and playing into one single outing. If your cohort is local, schedule a study date and bring the kids along. Chip in together for a babysitter so that the kids can play with the sitter while you study. If you’re not local to one another, try an online study session and schedule an online call for the kids at the same time. This works best if your kids are older, or if they already know each other and are willing to hang out virtually.
Celebrate the End of the Semester
We know that returning to school can be challenging, and we want you to feel supported. SNU’s unique cohort model offers you a group of classmates who can support you through academic challenges and celebrate your triumphs. Your cohort is as powerful and useful as you make it. So commit to getting to know each other and reap the rewards of a rich social network.
To learn more about what you can expect with an online degree program, and for more tips that can help you master your new academic life, check out our free guide, What to Expect from an Online Degree Program.