Students Are Experiencing a Very Different Version of College


[Furquaan Syed’s work set-up as a remote freshman college student. Photo by Furquaan Syed.]

With the COVID-19 pandemic still in full force, universities and colleges in the US have been forced to adapt to create the safest environment they can for their incoming and returning students and teachers in the fall of 2020. 

Because of the safety concerns and restrictions, some students have decided to take a gap year instead of going to college after their senior year of high school. According to the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center (NSC Research Center), undergraduate enrollment is down by 4% this year compared to 2019. 

To ensure the safety of their students and staff, some universities have opted for a completely remote semester, or restructured their schedules so that students can be on campus safely. The University of Massachusetts at Amherst and Brown University are two schools that have created a different learning environment for their students. 

UMass Amherst was planning on reopening for the fall semester this year, but changed their plans in August, shortly before the semester began. 

Furquaan Syed, a freshman at UMass Amherst, is currently balancing all of his classes from home. Syed sees both pros and cons of being at home instead of on campus. 

“I have more time in the day to myself and I’ve been in my pajamas for like 5/7 days a week,” Syed said. 

Although learning from home is less of a bustling environment than being on campus, Syed also says that “learning through a screen is less effective and more annoying” and that he “doesn’t get the experience of campus life.”

Shazain Khan, a freshman at Brown University, is also experiencing the beginning of his college experience in a different way. 

According to Brown’s plan for a healthy and safe 2020-21, Brown has created a system of on-campus and off-campus learning based on grade and semester. Freshmen are on campus during the spring and summer semesters, while sophomores, juniors, and seniors are on campus at different times of the year. This is to avoid having too many students on campus at once so that COVID-19 does not spread as much.

Khan is taking a pre-semester from home, and the university gave him an option to take one class, which he took advantage of. Khan is now taking one neuroscience class which he finds fun, but also emphasizes the difficulty of the course. 

Khan is also learning remotely, something that many college students are finding benefits and setbacks with. 

“I feel ambivalent because, on one hand, I can still practice a lot of the comforts and habits that I value at home. However, it’s proven to be a distracting environment and may not be the most conducive to my success.”

College from home is definitely different than the typical college experience, but what about students who are on campus right now?

Grant McNamara, a sophomore at Boston College, has a different perspective on going to college during the pandemic. 

“Overall, my personal college experience isn’t incredibly different, because Boston College has a bunch of hybrid classes where you can choose to come in person or over Zoom, and I tend to learn better in person so I really only have one online class.”

Keeping students’ mental health from decreasing has been a concern for many educators and administrators, but students are still feeling the effects of the changes made to their school year. 

“It does, however, feel like there’s a lot of empty time compared to normal in which I feel like I should be doing something but have no motivation to. This seems like a common theme amongst people here, an unusual lack of motivation, which can become really anxiety-inducing,” McNamara said.

There are also concerns on the college campus where students may not be following restrictions. “Dining halls are super strange and nobody actually follows the rules and social distancing, it’s also almost entirely grab and go now,” McNamara said. 

Although McNamara claims that not much has changed for him on the grounds of his college experience, he is not happy with the current situation. 

“The days mesh into each other a lot and it’s much harder to maintain focus now in pandemic-college.”

Focus has been an issue between all three of these college students, and adapting to these new rules and restrictions will take some time.