This has been an academic year like no other—and when high schools and colleges shifted abruptly to remote learning, students reacted in a variety of ways. As with any change, the new educational approach was a source of stress for many. While some students thrived, enjoying fewer classroom distractions and less social anxiety, others missed the in-person interactions and struggled to focus. Fortunately, there are a range of strategies that can help for those who continue to find distance learning a challenge. Here are some suggestions for further adapting, staying on track with schoolwork, and managing the college application process.
Be honest with yourself
Being upset about the disruption in the past year is perfectly normal. Notice these reactions, accept them, and learn healthy ways to manage your feelings. As Laura Almas, counselor and social worker at Barnstable Intermediate School, says, “Take it easy on yourself! As each of us is navigating a new normal, it’s certain there will be bumps, blocks, and restarts as we learn to live safe, productive, and healthy lives again. Take this opportunity to learn from your mistakes and grow flexible in your thinking.”
Dan Levine, president and founder of Engaging Minds Boston Learning and Tutoring Center, also notes, “Students aren’t alone if they are feeling isolated or stressed during COVID-19. To help mitigate those feelings, we urge students to get outside and/or exercise and to engage meaningfully with others when they can. Exercise has been proven to reduce fatigue, improve focus and concentration, improve sleep, and enhance overall cognitive function—all of which leads to reduced stress. The key is making sure to proactively schedule that time into your calendar. Taking care of your mind and body are just as important as any other homework assignment.”
Related: The Importance of Mental Health in a COVID-19 World
Connect with others
Remote learning tends to be more isolating than in-person classes, and Levine notes that “connecting with others, even from a distance, helps us feel less isolated.” Marci Schwartz, LCSW, PhD, of Thrive College Counseling says, “Setting up virtual lunch gatherings with classmates and friends can be something students can look forward to and help maintain motivation and engagement.” Dr. Sherry Skyler Kelly, clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist from West Hartford, Connecticut, suggests, “Try to request breakout rooms and group projects in remote learning so you have time to interface with classmates. Set up weekly check-in times or mini-conferences with your teacher and/or school counselor.” Alexander Morris-Wood, Director of Transition Services and Outreach at Beacon College, offers similar advice for those who work with students: “Social isolation is a common feeling many students are experiencing. First, we need to normalize these emotional experiences by providing more opportunities during the day to check in with students, affording them opportunities to process through their experiences. Perhaps by normalizing these feelings, students may feel more connected with their peers and recognize opportunities to connect, even if it is digitally.”
Typical school days are quite structured, and many students flounder with too much unscheduled time. “When creating a schedule and a plan, we urge students to work backwards from the due date and break the assignment (or application or essay) down into smaller, more manageable pieces over a period of time,” says Levine of Engaging Minds. “This helps eliminate the rush to finish the night before it’s due and also allows students to produce higher quality work.” As Morris-Wood observes, “When looking at schoolwork, remote learning can be challenging as the support structure has now changed. Making problem-solving charts with contingency plans can be a great way to ensure students are getting their needs met while developing practical college readiness skills.”
Related: COVID-19 College Life: Climbing Uphill in 2020
Get organized with college applications
If you’re applying to college during these uncertain times, developing a systematic approach to the college search and application process can make all the difference. Morris-Wood recommends identifying the steps involved in pursuing a goal as “sequence out a plan, prioritize aspects of the process, and identify where support is needed in order to meet deadlines.” Almas of Barnstable Intermediate advises students to “schedule a ‘flex block’ each day. Think about the times in your day that aren’t scheduled with school, work, sports, or chores. Which time are you most productive? For example, if you’re an early riser but have no obligations until 8:00 am, then block off each morning 6:30–7:30 as time in which you can get ahead (or catch up) with schoolwork or college applications.” Schwartz of Thrive College Counseling adds, “Managing school work at the same time as completing college applications can be very challenging for students. It’s easy to get overwhelmed and lose motivation. Connecting with friends to talk about how they’re moving through this process is often helpful to students.” She also notes the importance of “seeking support for building organizational and self-advocacy skills during this college application process."
Related: The Essential Step-By-Step Guide to College Applications
Savor your successes—and notice what helps you recharge
There are many decisions involved in schoolwork, such as selecting the topic for a paper or deciding which assignment to tackle first. Give yourself credit each time you make decisions and get things done. As Almas says, “In an uncertain time full of setbacks and disappointments, it’s important to celebrate the little things.” Sunshine and time in nature have proven therapeutic benefits, and Almas urges students to “go outside. Fresh air is always good! Notice and revel in nature.” When it comes to coping with this huge life shift, trying your best (even if it looks different than your prior “best”), appreciating your progress, and making time for yourself are the most important things.
For important coronavirus updates and other practical advice, please see our COVID-19 student resources page. The CollegeXpress community is cheering for you every step of this difficult time!