Just like you, I’m a student who went through the entire process of catching a flight back home from a different country & time zone, drinking absurd amounts of coffee, speaking to friends through a screen, and having to get a stronger set of glasses.
The world entered the realm of Zoom and Google Meet which wasn’t the easiest of transitions for students nor professors. Let’s paint a picture of it: “You’re a student and you're on-campus one day, then out of nowhere you end up back home for an entire year in front of a screen spending 8 - 10 hours a day living "the new normal.” But as we look at the road just over the hill that was lockdown and COVID, Fall 2021 saw the return of students to campus and in-person learning making a comeback.
Before you head back to campus or if you’re already on campus waiting for classes to start, read through this and find out a few ways to pace yourself & get ready to get back to the flow of campus life.
Before diving into how to pace yourself, it's worth discussing both ends of the spectrum when it comes to understanding whether "The Online Era" during the COVID-19 lockdown was worth it or not for students. This era saw students drop out, take a gap year, have their graduation ceremonies virtually (some didn't have their ceremonies until this year), face challenges with grades, and much more.
COVID-19 forced 25% of students who were graduating high school to postpone their higher education plans for college, and some of them even said that the postponement would be indefinite, another factor that led to this was the lessened ability of families to provide the funding for the higher education of their children. With that, graduating high school students also felt that they could develop professional skills for their careers by undertaking different courses and avoiding the hassle of student loans.
It's worth noting that undergraduate enrollment dropped by 4% in 2020 and was also driven by the 16% drop in freshman attendance. This is enough to say that the satisfaction of online classes was low and drove students to explore other avenues that would help support them financially and for some help pay off their student loans. All in all, 45% of students were not satisfied with their online classes with 1 in 3 being unable to access their classes and 33% arguing that the education they received was below par.
There is another end of the spectrum that was satisfied with the virtual experience and had little to no objections with the education they received. After understanding and discussing the poor experiences of the online world, researchers set out to find out if there is a group of students who were satisfied with their education during the pandemic by sending out surveys.
But all those surveys tell one small story and don't dive into the individual thoughts of what each student saw as an advantage despite there being disadvantages to the entire story. So instead of speaking the language of studies, research papers, or surveys, I'm going to run you through the advantages from a Students Point of View.
The advantages I saw to online classes were plentiful, not because I didn't have to walk 45 minutes, five days of the week to get to campus at 7:00 AM or 8:00 AM (well possibly that, but it was good cardio) but because of the many things, I got to do that I normally wouldn't have been able to. Never in my life did I imagine that I'd be able to pursue my higher education from the comfort of my bed in my pajamas while sitting in a completely different time zone.
Students from all around the world will be able to relate when I say not having to rent out living spaces, pay for daily commutes, buy groceries every other day or weekly, and many more factors, helped us save money that would help us pay for classes, learn new skills, support our families, and have emergency savings in case of a rainy day. It wasn't just that, this "New Normal Life" gave me opportunities to pursue hobbies I'd put on the back burner for a while, but because of the circumstances, I couldn't be happier about getting a chance to take them off that burner. Yes, there were certain times where I felt the desire to catch an 18-hour flight and head back to campus, but most of it was drowned out by the exciting new opportunities that popped up while being able to continue my higher education.
With that, I would say the online era was a satisfactory experience for me mainly due to the money I was able to save, the opportunities & hobbies I was able to pursue, and the skills I was able to learn. It doesn't mean that I'd love to live the online life 100% either, but I would definitely be more open to options in the future that allowed hybrid learning. I'm also looking forward to not attending my graduation through a screen.
You're probably excited to walk into class and grab your favorite seat you left before lockdown, or you may be looking forward to working in groups again. Before you dive right back into it, a campus reopening for in-person classes is contingent on a few factors:
1. Social Distancing (2 Meter distances between each student)
2. You NEED to be vaccinated
3. Masks must be worn at all times
4. There's a good chance that you might need to get revaccinated if you don't have an FDA or WHO-approved vaccine
5. 7-day quarantine if you are not vaccinated
(4 & 5 are for International Students returning to The US from another country and are also dependent on the policies set by your college/university on returning to campus life post-pandemic.)
The student life we once were so accustomed to may not be the same for years to come or never all together, so we must do everything in our power to curb the spread and aid recovery. You never know, we might be able to put the entire debacle that was the COVID-19 pandemic behind even sooner than we initially thought.
Virtual learning coupled with a lockdown wasn't exactly the best phase for social lives or mental health around the world and it led to many students missing out on their key years of interactions when it came to making friends, networking, or stepping out of their comfort zones. Unfortunately, several additional negative effects impacted the lives of students all around the world such as anxiety, trouble concentrating, boredom, increased irritability, and a sense of loneliness just to name a few.
Reading this far you may think getting back to normal life is out of the question, but you think wrong because we're almost on the other side of things with the pandemic, and proof of that is campuses reopening, giving us the chance to catch up on the social side of things we've missed out on over the past year and a half.
So without further ado, here's what you can do to shake off those virtual jitters:
1. Join a Club, Fraternity, or Sorority
Even before I got to the main campus as a freshman, I ran through a directory of clubs to understand which would be a good fit for me, which ones would give me opportunities to meet other students, and network at different events. Without a shadow of a doubt, this is what helped me the most in terms of creating a social circle at university and it can definitely help you take the first step in breaking away from the world of online classes, regardless of whether you're a freshman or a returning student.
2. Volunteer at Campus Events
Any sort of big event tends to carry a lot of responsibilities and always needs a team of volunteers in addition to the admin team to help make it a success. It doesn't matter if the event is a tall, grande, venti, or even a trenta one (I feel it's easier to explain in Starbucks sizes.), what matters is the fact that you're getting face time with other students & staff which can automatically lead to future volunteering roles for events as well as the fact that you're going to have the chance to actively interact with the attendees of events which can spark up some interesting conversations.
Events are one thing I always keep my eye out for as a student because of the social interactions that come with them as well as growth opportunities. Don't limit yourself to just campus events, branch out and look for different events in your city that are looking for an extra pair of hands.
3. Plan Group Hangouts
Mission: Revive Social Life, will not be possible unless you're out and about with a few people. Grab a few of your friends and head out to explore new places in the city, you never know, there just might be a story for the ages waiting to happen or be told. I know there have been many stories I've gotten to see during group hangouts and there definitely have been new places that we've discovered or heard about just by walking around the city.
But before you get too excited to do any of this, remember to stay safe while you have your fun and meet new people; wear those masks, keep that distance where you need to, and definitely sanitize it all up.
The best thing you can do to make it just that much easier is to have a few apps on your phone that will lighten the burden of student life. Here are a few apps that I'd recommend as a student to other students:
1. Journey - Community Creation App
Yes, this one is going to sound a little biased, but it's only because I feel it's a great way for colleges & universities to create their own communities and share them with students around campus.
My first day on campus wasn't the easiest because of two reasons: I didn't have a chance to connect with other freshmen and I didn't know what clubs were on campus until a few weeks later at the Club Fair.
That's when I tried to look for different ways different apps or platforms that would allow me to speak to students around campus who might have shared interests or hobbies. While digging in the realms of the App Store and Google Play, I came across Journey and decide to run through the app to understand if it was what I was looking for.
Alas, it was the exact type of app I was looking for because it allowed people to create communities that were important to them or that would help those with shared interests connect even if they were on the other side of the world. I found it useful for student life because you could instantly join a community made for your university and start connecting with incoming freshmen or students who have been there for a while.
New features like the ones below made me feel even more sure that it's the best fit for what I was looking for when I first started university:
- Guides: Created by pros in any given field to help you understand the challenges, milestones, recommended resources, and habits to create to be successful.
- Journey Timeline: A new version of a roadmap that highlights posts of your achievements towards reaching a goal.
- Steps & Habits: A new way to remind you to keep track of important tasks and build habits that benefit you in the long run.
Coming from a student, it's an app that has everything you need in one place.
2. Circulo - Saftey App
When I first moved to a new country and city, there were times when I felt unsafe because I didn't know what to expect around the corner at certain times or because I had to cross through some shady places to get to my destination. I discovered Circulo through a recommendation and it really has me worry less now because I can use the app to send my location to close family & friends through the "Come and Get Me" feature. I've also found that it provides peace of mind to the family if they know you're going to be out late or are visiting an unfamiliar place.
Here's another helpful feature I found during my run-through: If in any case, you don't have the contact information for emergency services, you can connect with them right through the app if there's a critical situation at any time. It's really helpful to use the app if you live on or off-campus, and I know that I'd feel much safer knowing that I have a virtual group going everywhere I go.
3. Motion - Productivity Browser Extension
We're all guilty of spending too much time on distracting websites or apps when using our devices but, NOT ANYMORE! Thankfully, I came across Motion that helped me in terms of boosting productivity and staying off of websites that would distract me when I should be working.
If you're like me and need something that stops you from jumping on YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook when there's an important task at hand, Motion is a great tool because you can program it to block websites that distract you the most. To keep that motivation high, at the end of the month you get a report telling you how productive you've been.
4. UniDays - Student Benefits App
If you want a guardian angel that lets you buy some really cool stuff and looks over your wallet at the same time, UniDays is the app for you. There is an unimaginable number of discounts you can get for hundreds of brands as a student when you use the app and it's helped me save some money when & where it mattered.
All you have to do is register with your student email and you'll be "Gucci" (A well-timed fashion pun never hurt anyone). Also, did I mention it's completely free? The Fall of 2018 is when I downloaded the app and there's no chance it's leaving my phone for as long as I am a student.
5. Fitocracy - Fitness App
If there's one thing I could do to kick back after a brain-smashing day of classes, I'd be at the gym without a question. But unfortunately, the problem lies in the statement, "Brain Smashing Day of Classes" and it's the one thing in addition to a packed schedule that doesn't always allow me to stay on the health train.
Luckily for students who are in the same situation, I present to you Fitocracy which allows you to get that workout in no matter your skill level as well as join a group of people who share the same ideals as you. It's as easy as taking a 10 - 15 minute break for a quick workout.
Congratulations, you have just read through the events of the past year and a half in 10 minutes, but also found out how to make campus life post-pandemic much more safe & enjoyable. There's only one last thing left to do, and that is to mix everything that you've read together, make the best of the time you have left on campus, and reignite those social lives to create a memorable experience.
If you're looking for universities, remember to do your research, find out the best fit for yourselves, and don't worry about the financial side of things too much either if your dream university is on the higher side of the budget or if COVID-19 affected your finances, universities are offering financial aid to students with a second round of funding that has been approved by Congress.
Finally, if you're a soon-to-be freshman, connect with other incoming freshmen, faculty, and whoever else you feel can help make your experience at university better or impactful. But, also remember to use what you read about shaking off the jitters and apps.
May you enjoy many more semesters to come.