College in the Time of COVID

No one living in 2020 has managed to escape upheaval and change! COVID-19 has shifted our daily routines, and in some cases, drastically disrupted our lives.  And college life is no exception. Whether you’re entering college for the first time, or are a returning upperclassman, this fall’s college landscape will look anything but “normal.”

While about 80% of Christian colleges are physically reopening their doors this fall (compared to about 60% of colleges across the board) some have gone to a hybrid version of learning and a small percentage will be completely virtual. Many have pushed back their start date, and others have already planned to have no students return after the holidays. Clearly, this is NOT “business as usual.”

What To Expect: Even if you are fortunate enough to return to some form of in-person learning, it is likely you will have to obtain a negative COVID test before starting classes. Some colleges are requiring mandatory two-week quarantines upon arrival to campus, with meals being eaten in dorm rooms or outside. Social distancing practices will most certainly be in place, with mandatory mask wearing. Once classes are up and running, you can expect to see smaller class sizes than in the past. You may be required to fill out a daily symptom tracker and will be informed of your school’s (likely brand new) policies on travel, off-campus gathering, and on-campus visitation. Study abroad opportunities have been mostly postponed, and many sports and extra-curricular activities have been modified for the fall, if not canceled all together.

Exercise Caution: In the past several weeks, a number of states have reported that somewhere around 70% of their new cases of COVID-19 have been amongst young people (ages 19-24). Theories abound as to why this may be the happening, but some have suggested that college students may feel a bit invincible and therefore resist social distancing guidelines. Some colleges and universities have already experienced large outbreaks of COVID leading them to return to online learning. It may stand to reason that the preventative health guidelines we tend to buck against are actually for our protection, and that by following them, we can avoid outbreaks and college closures. Still, despite our best efforts, it’s impossible to predict the future or control outcomes when it comes to education this year.

All The Feels: With all these changes and limitations in view, it may be easy to become frustrated or anxious. After all, college is supposed to be fun! We tend to romanticize the closeness and sense of community that comes from dorm room shenanigans, community bathrooms, late night study sessions around shared food and the constant social mingling common to traditional college life. The new limitations may seem stifling. Dealing with the unknowns may pose a sense of fear. And we may even grieve the things we feel we are missing out on as a result of all the changes. Rest assured: these feelings are all normal. Sharing them with someone you trust is a good way to process and adapt to this new season and all its strangeness. If you feel you’re struggling with the adjustments or feeling depressed, make an appointment to visit with a campus counselor. Together you can strategize about how best to cope and even flourish despite all of the changes.

Connection Matters: A Carnegie Dartlet study conducted in May of 2020 found that 29% of millennials felt lonely during the first months of COVID when quarantines were first in place. This makes sense. A lot of us felt isolated and cut off! But this doesn’t have to be the case. Just because you can’t go to the movies or attend the normal collegiate sporting events associated with fall doesn’t mean connection can’t happen. Seek out a small group Bible study or community group. Even if the campus gym is closed, find an outdoor exercise buddy and build new, healthy routines together. Plan a study group for three to four people at a coffee shop that allows for limited seating. Smaller gatherings can actually lead to more meaningful interactions!

While college life is sure to look a little different this fall, remember that like all seasons, this too will eventually pass. Also: different is not necessarily bad. There are certain to be silver linings and new adventures if you look closely and choose to embrace what lies before you. 2020 has certainly not been boring; with a little effort and positive outlook, this fall will likely be unforgettable!