Coronavirus and College

Starting college is hard. And because we’re living during a pandemic, incoming college freshmen will enter college at a time of uncertainty. Although many colleges in the U.S. are preparing for these challenges, college will not be the same experience in 2020 that it was in 2019 or other years. For first-year college students, adapting and planning for uncertainty must be their part of their college plan.

For many incoming and returning college students, whether to return to college, given that health officials are reporting a second wave of COVID-19 in the late fall, is a critical question. Some students worry about the financial impact, especially since many students work part-time during school to help pay for tuition and other costs. According to Harry Warner, associate director for outreach at Ohio State University, his students are concerned about missing out on the “college experience.” Other concerns include financial concerns and concerns for their safety. As a result, some students are considering community college or even taking a gap year to work.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has been tracking reopening plans for this fall. In an informal poll, they asked more than 300 students about what worries them for the fall. Among the responses were students who were worried about staying safe at work.

Other students did not mesh well with online learning, so they had doubts about returning to online classes. The Art & Science Group, a higher education consulting firm, conducted a poll of more than 450 students and found that many high school seniors are switching up their immediate plans for college. Thirty-five percent expected to take either a gap year or attend community college.

Students should also plan for things like orientation and campus visits to be different. Campus tours will be virtual. Orientation classes will be online.

So, how can incoming students prepare for this uncertainty? Warner recommends that each student develop their plan for how they might cope with disappointment, change and new challenges. Before heading to campus, students must familiarize themselves with the college’s COVID-19 restrictions. They should educate themselves on mask policies and sanitation requirements. Students should know about the organizational and disciplinary skills they’ll need to tackle online classes, the restrictions on student social gatherings, and the college’s testing, counseling and other support services.

Also, students should increase their attention to friend and family networks for ongoing support, and create a “healthy routine of proper nutrition, physical activity and sleep hygiene,” Warner says. Students need to acknowledge that they can’t control what is going to happen and try to manage their uncertainty creatively.

Finally, students should affirm and acknowledge their feelings of uncertainty. Parents can help with this by listening and sharing in their feelings. Parents should empathize with their college students, allowing them to share their grief at missing traditional celebratory events like grad parties, prom and time with their friends before they leave for college. But mostly “they want the truth and can tell when we are not authentic,” Warner says. “So, be real.”

Many schools have tele-counseling available to students. They also have coping webinars like OSU’s “Let’s Talk” sessions over the summer or workshops to work with support groups, or even COVID-19 support groups. When students take these measures before getting to campus, their anxiety will ease. Above all else, they should remember, we are all in the same boat.

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