Choosing the right college is hard enough, but after you’ve made your decision, there are many more factors to consider and prepare for before leaving for campus. Plus, with the pandemic looming over even the most prestigious institutions, attending college is sure to be different from years before—even different from just last year during the height of COVID-19. Let’s explore three key challenges students may face in this new stage of our pandemic world: making friends, learning online, and finding secure housing.
Making friends and still connecting virtually
Being a freshman during the pandemic means many students have missed out on the ultimate college experience: meeting new people. And with the Delta variant spreading fast, this may continue to happen into the fall semester. While colleges are institutions of learning first and foremost, they’re also young people’s first taste of independence—a place where students learn but also find themselves. With the pandemic still looming over our heads, many opportunities to have fun, join clubs, and socialize with our peers are still heavily restricted. The lack of in-person activities takes away from the organic social life that makes college so special. But not completely! Over the last year, a more planned approach by colleges and universities has helped freshmen experience college social life in a virtual world. For example, Cornell University filled its social calendar with various digital events like:
- Live-streamed virtual concerts and music festivals
- Watch parties for anticipated movies and Netflix specials
- Wellness groups with activities like meditation and yoga classes
Despite the pandemic, freshmen still have opportunities to make friends and meet new people, but you should come prepared to make the most of what’s available. We don’t entirely know what college life will look like this fall—especially with the CDC changing its guidelines again—so being prepared for anything is key.
Learning online and creating a quality setup
Adapting to online learning was a major challenge faced by all students during the pandemic. Everything from attending lectures to completing group assignments has been taking place in a virtual environment for most students, which makes learning feel distant and isolating. Moreover, online classes typically require students to use a range of technologies to fully participate and get the most from their learning experience—based on a bold assumption that students have the available funds to optimize their setup outside of campus. Whether it be the cost of virtual education or the feeling of isolation it causes, there are actions you can take to get more value from online learning if you’re facing it again this fall.
Upgrading your setup affordably
Sticking to a budget is something all students should come to appreciate, but given you’ll be relying on your setup day-in and day-out, picking the right equipment is essential. From ergonomic upgrades like laptop risers to connectivity boosters such as audio cables, choosing simple, budget-friendly tools goes a long way to creating a functional setup that’ll get you through the semester.
Treating online classes like in-person lectures
Staying motivated is the first hurdle for many remote students. Because you aren’t there in person and have less accountability than you may have in a physical classroom, trying to stay motivated is a key online learning challenge. From dressing the part and getting out of bed to contributing in each lesson, a more engaged mindset improves the value you get from attending online classes.
Learning online doesn’t mean you’re isolated from college—quite the opposite. Your professors are only an email away, plus you can review virtual lessons on your own time should a tricky topic fly over your head. While online learning isn’t the same as in person, having the right equipment and a positive mindset can help get you through the semester.
Finding good accommodations
Finding good college housing accommodations is a fine balance of blending quality with affordability, but alongside normal housing anxieties like rent rates and roommates, students also have COVID-19 to worry about. For many freshmen (and seniors alike), university housing is a haven. At American University, for example, some 300 students were granted emergency accommodation last year, providing safe environments with the tools to complete classes. And this could happen again as the pandemic continues! But be aware that living in college accommodations during the pandemic is a surreal experience, almost like a ghost town haunted by its once joyful buzz. The lack of atmosphere and presence of crowds make living on campus a rather difficult process. At many colleges, students will have the choice of living in residence halls, securing private housing off campus, or living at home with your parents. Where you choose to live during the pandemic is a personal decision. The big questions are: How do you feel about your health and safety? And do you need access to campus facilities, or is it better to stay at home for the time being?
Preparing for college is challenging at the best of times, let alone during a pandemic. Everything from making friends to learning online to finding good housing accommodations puts a fresh spin on old anxieties. But with a little forward thinking and flexibility, you can face these potential challenges and get a great education.
For more advice on facing big challenges during the pandemic, check out our COVID-19 student resources page.