How (and Why) to Create a Separate Windows Account Just for School
Summary: Looking for expert, lab-tested reviews on the latest Windows? PCMag's experts have you covered.How (and Why) to Create a Separate Windows Account Just for School | PCMag
Looking for expert, lab-tested reviews on the latest Windows? PCMag's experts have you covered.How (and Why) to Create a Separate Windows Account Just for School | PCMag
Keep your personal and school lives separate by creating an education-focused account on your PC. Distinct profiles can help you (or your children) concentrate on learning.
Whether you are a student looking for a boundary between your school and personal life or a parent who wants a distraction-free environment for your school-age kids, a separate education-only account on a Windows PC can help keep these worlds from colliding. We show you how to set up a secondary account and choose the account type that best fits your needs. We also offer tips on how to organize a new user profile that's more suitable for education. This advice applies regardless of whether you or your child are learning from home full-time, part-time, or not at all.
You can absolutely create separate accounts on Chrome OS-, macOS-, and Ubuntu-based computers, but the advice in this guide is specific to Windows users. After all, Windows' share of the desktop market worldwide is about 73 percent, according to Statcounter, as of the time of this update. This guide covers the process for a Windows 10 device, but Windows 11 is right around the corner and, once it launches, we'll update this story with any changes to the process.
If you are a student, you know how difficult it can be to focus on schoolwork in a home environment filled with life's distractions. This is true whether you're engaged in remote learning or trying to do homework from in-person classes. Conversely, if your coursework is staring you in the face, decompressing after a long day of studying can be harder. Everyone needs boundaries between their two digital lives.
We don’t all have the luxury of a second laptop or desktop lying around to use only for school. Access to libraries and your school’s resources are likely not options either, so long as COVID-19 remains a serious threat to your (and everyone else’s) health.
The next best solution is to create separate accounts for school and personal use on your computer. Be strict and deliberate about how you use each one. When you need to do schoolwork or attend class virtually, only do so while logged in to your school account. During leisure time, restrict your activities to your personal account. If your school gives you a computer, only use it for school-related activities. You never know what sort of spyware or traffic-monitoring software is preconfigured on an institution-provided computer.
At some point during your virtual learning, you may have to share your screen. It might be for small group work via Zoom Meeting, to chat with an instructor, or to address the whole class. This presents some potentially serious (or at least embarrassing) problems. What you do on your computer on your own time is your business. If you share your screen, suddenly it’s everyone else’s business, too. You don’t want your private messages, notifications, documents, or revealing browsing tabs broadcast to every one of your classmates and teachers.
Parents need to be concerned about screen-sharing, too. If parents set a kid up on their personal profile and the kid screen-shares with the class, who knows what they might accidentally reveal from the parent's account.
Neither parents nor students know who might be lurking on a video call, either. Although Zoom-Bombing may not be the hot topic it was last year, no software is perfect, and not everyone uses the best practices when setting up a video call.
A dedicated second account is a blank slate. Plus, it’s free and easy to set up. Use one to reduce your or your child's risk of accidentally sharing personal information or getting caught spending time on school-inappropriate activities. Everyone has some things they wish to keep private, though you might not know what it is until it’s exposed. Take precautions now.
Only administrators can create new accounts on a Windows PC. If you are not an admin on your computer, ask whoever administers your machine to help set up a new account. To get started, head to the Settings app, select the Accounts section, and then choose the Family & other users tab in the left-hand menu.
Here, there are two options: family members or another user. If you are a parent of a younger child, choose to add a family member. With this selection, you pick between Member and Organizer roles. Select Member if you are creating a profile for your child and Organizer to configure an account for a parent or caretaker. Organizers can edit the group and other safety settings. Both account types require you to sign into a Microsoft account.
If neither you nor the intended user has a Microsoft account, you can create one from the setup screen. If you do not wish to create a Microsoft account, go ahead and skip to the next section. Just keep in mind that non-Microsoft accounts (otherwise known as local user accounts) aren’t subject to Microsoft’s parental protections. Microsoft Family Safety can help you set screen time limits, filter content, and monitor the activities and location of your child.
If you manage your own device, or don’t feel like setting up a new Microsoft account for your child, choose Add someone else to this PC. Again, Microsoft asks for a phone number or email address linked to a Microsoft account. Just click the I don’t have this person’s sign-in information prompt, and then the Add a user without a Microsoft Account option. Next, add a user name, an optional password, and fill out the three security questions. A password is not required for this new account, but we seriously recommend creating one. By default, Windows sets up the new user with a standard account, but you can change it to an administrator account in the Family & other users section.
For students with their own PC, we recommend you give the new account admin rights; otherwise, you will need to type your password in every time you attempt to install a program or access files in other User folders. On the other hand, if you are a parent setting up a new account for a child, leave it as a Standard account. That way, your child can’t perform those aforementioned actions without your password.
After setup commences, Windows adds the new profile as a sign-in option on the login screen. Simply click the profile icon to log in. Alternatively, if you are already logged in to a Windows account, open the Start Menu, click the account name, and then select the account to which you would like to switch. Pressing the Windows key + X, then the U key, and then the I key signs you out of the current account and takes you to the Windows login screen.
Now that you have a second profile created, how can you optimize it for learning? Students can start by thinking about the things they typically must do for school. Consider the applications you use, the files you create, and the way you work. Parents should consider what they don't want their child doing during school hours. Before you start imposing restrictions, read our guide about what parents of connected kids need to know. And talk to your child first.
A cluttered desktop makes for a cluttered mind. Don’t fall into the bad habit of saving everything to the desktop. Doing so just makes it more difficult to find the things you need. In fact, students might benefit immensely by keeping the desktop clear of everything. That way, you start each session by taking in whatever calming, inspiring, or meditative desktop background you chose.
If you don’t even want to see the Recycle Bin icon on the desktop (yes, this annoys people), go to Settings > Personalization > Themes, and then click on the Desktop Icon Settings menu item on the right-hand side. Deselect any icons you don’t want to appear.
If you absolutely can’t keep yourself from saving files to the desktop, you can cheat by right-clicking anywhere on the desktop, selecting View, and toggling the Show desktop icons option to off. Everything that's on your desktop will be hidden from sight.
Treat the File Explorer the same way. No document should be orphaned, aimlessly taking up space on your C: drive. Instead, create folders for all your classes and (if you are feeling ambitious) subfolders to organize assignments, ongoing documents, and notes. Naming conventions are important, too. If you are writing several drafts of an essay, you might not know the distinction between FinalRealOne.doc and ActualRealOne.doc when it’s late and the assignment submission window is closing. Use descriptive file names and dates to distinguish your drafts.
For parents setting up an account for their child, teach them the importance of organized file hierarchies early on. Start simple by adding a folder for each one of their subjects and tell them to save any related materials to that folder. To help yourself keep up to date, move everything into the relevant folders at regular intervals, so that everyone knows where to look for assignment requirements.
For parents and students who don’t want to keep files local, use a cloud storage and syncing service instead, such as OneDrive or Google Drive. Keep the same file-organization rules on whatever platform you use.
Most online learning happens in a web browser. Students, spend some time setting up your browser for your educational needs. Keep in mind that while some extensions and bookmarks are indispensable for regular browsing, they may not be useful for getting schoolwork done.
On a new user account, any installed browsers start as a clean slate. It’s up to you to add everything you need. Do you use an online portal, such as Google Classroom or Blackboard, to access your grades and submit assignments? Bookmark it. Do you use Microsoft Teams or Zoom for online classes? Bookmark those sites, too. You get the picture—favorite every page that you need to use to get through the school day.
Most browsers let you pin tabs in the browser or to the Windows Taskbar, too. If you access a site first thing every day, consider pinning it, along with any other site you use regularly. Alternatively, you can just set your browser to launch multiple pages upon launch. In Edge, you can configure this in Settings > On Startup > Open a specific page or pages. Parents who don't want to frantically search for a school's login portal every morning can benefit from this, too. Edge also lets you manage your tabs vertically, too, if you prefer.
Students who ordinarily use a private browser and set it to never remember their history and configure everything with privacy-enhancing extensions, may need to take off their tinfoil hat during school hours. Some extensions may break internal school sites or other web resources. One thing you should not disable is a password manager. Schools sometimes require you to sign up for an inordinate number of educational sites or have too many archaic systems for anyone (both students and parents) to remember all the associated passwords.
We begrudgingly recommend letting your browser keep your history on this account. When researching for a project, you might want to easily revisit a helpful resource, YouTube tutorial, or Khan Academy lesson that you may have trouble finding again. Use Microsoft Edge's Collections (the toolbar icon that looks like stacked papers with a plus icon) feature to group together related sites and to add any quick notes to help you remember important details.
If you have trouble focusing, try installing a browser extension to limit the time you spend using certain sites, such as Stayfocusd. Alternatively, just block attention-stealing sites altogether in the school-focused Windows account.
Use the Start Menu to group the apps you need for schoolwork. Put your browser of choice in one group, along with any required school apps. Organize document-creation apps in another. If you create graphics or multimedia projects, those can get a dedicated group. Now, you can rearrange these groups as you see fit. To name a group of tiles in the Start Menu, hover over the blank area above a set of tiles and click the Name group prompt.
Don’t clutter the Start menu with apps you shouldn’t spend time on when you're trying to learn. Game-centric apps, such as Steam and Twitch should not be front-and-center, for example.
With built-in and third-party parental control tools, parents can also keep better control over kids' screen time. You can, for instance, manage your child's gaming time and use of entertainment apps during school hours. Third-party options can also enforce screen-time limits, block apps, and restrict certain categories of websites.
While you are cleaning up the Start Menu of unwanted apps, you should also check to see which apps start automatically. There’s no sense in letting an app consume valuable resources if you are never going to use it on the profile.
Treat the Taskbar similarly to the Start Menu: Only pin apps to the Taskbar that you use frequently. To save horizontal space, always opt to combine multiple running instances of an app. You can set that and other preferences for both the Start Menu and Taskbar in Settings > Personalization.
Other tools in the Action Center are helpful to explore. For example, check out the Night Light (to reduce eye strain during long study or video sessions), Bluetooth (for connecting headsets and headphones for virtual activities), Focus Assist (for tuning out all the message and email notifications you don’t have the time or bandwidth to deal with), and Screen Snip (for capturing important parts of a lecture or details on a project) tiles. You can prioritize which tiles to hide and show in the Action Center’s collapsed view, too, so the important ones are always on hand.
It’s difficult to keep your personal and school life separate, especially when you or your child may be learning from home while quite possibly also sharing space with people who are working from home. Creating a dedicated education account is one small way for both students and parents to gain back a little control. Don’t fret if you find yourself or your kid working on a school project from a personal account or vice versa: You can always move files back to where they belong. Everyone struggles to separate school and home life at the best of times—which this isn't. After all, without a change of scenery every day, switching between home and school mindsets has only become more difficult.