Navigating College Life During a Global Pandemic

young adults on college campus wearing masks talking and working outside on laptops

College is often described as “the best four years of your life,” but how does this play out when you’re going to college during a pandemic? Colleges across the country are faced with challenging decisions around how they will carry out instruction and what living accommodations are available for students. So how do you make the best of your college situation being different than you imagined it?  

To the student staying home and doing classes virtually… 

Maybe your campus is only offering virtual instruction in the fall or maybe you’re opting to take the all-virtual option and avoiding living on campus, but either way, your college life looks different than you imagined. There is a different style of organization needed to stay on top of all your coursework and virtual lectures when you’re not being prompted by your professors in person and you don’t have classmates sitting next to you asking you about the next assignment. Keeping track of all your assignments and schedules in one consistent place can result in less anxiety and more success. Consider taking time at the beginning of each week to map out what is due and what is required for each class so that you have peace of mind going into the week and plan other things accordingly.

It’s also important to prioritize some level of socialization despite engaging in college exclusively online. How can you try to connect with someone else in each of your classes so you have someone to ask questions to or share notes with or study with? Consider getting contact information when you’re paired on a group assignment or using social media as a way to connect with classmates you may otherwise not know. Make time for your friendships, even if all of your hang-outs are online. Facetime with your roommate from last year to watch your favorite show together, schedule a virtual coffee date with a classmate from last semester or do a virtual workout with your gym buddy. You may need to prioritize investing in relationships that you already have access to whether that’s at work or with the friends you grew up with who are still living nearby. 

To the student returning to campus… 

Although you’re headed back to your school, it will certainly look and feel much different than before. Try to establish realistic expectations by reading all the safety information your college or university has provided and mentally prepare to be flexible as things will inevitably change. Have an intentional conversation with whoever you’ll be living with about what each of you is comfortable with in terms of how you’re engaging with other people and how you’re using shared space. Try to be as direct and clear as possible about what your boundaries are and respectful and mindful about your roommate(s) comfort levels as well. End the conversation by agreeing that you can revisit the conversation as often as needed in the future. 

Consider where you’ll complete your virtual or hybrid classes. Will you be able to concentrate and have a good connection in your dorm room? Will your roommate be trying to watch and participate in a lecture at the same time and in the same room? Research other locations on campus you’ll be able to spend time outside of your room and consider investing in some noise-cancelling headphones if you’re in a small shared space. 

To the incoming college freshman… 

There is sure to be disappointment and nervous anticipation around your college experience starting in the midst of COVID-19. Starting college is usually full of emotions and change, but now more than ever the future is uncertain. Whether you’re attending college virtually or planning to live on campus, it will be less clear how to navigate creating connections with other students and with your professors. Research ways to get involved virtually with your school community and be willing to try to initiate conversations and connections with other students even when it’s awkward or less straightforward than you’re used to. Take advantage of virtual office hours to get to know some of your professors and ask questions when you’re confused about a topic or need clarity on an assignment. Take time to mourn the loss of what you thought would be. It could be loss of freedom, loss of excitement, loss of a new chapter, loss of what you dreamed of when starting college. It is okay to acknowledge that COVID-19 has led to loss and does not mean you are ungrateful for the health, safety, or opportunities you do have. Your ability to acknowledge this loss can build your empathy for the losses of others in this season. After you’ve taken time to mourn these losses, then make time to be grateful for the opportunities you do have and allow yourself the freedom to be excited for this new chapter in whatever form it takes. 

No matter what your situation is, there will be challenges to navigating life as COVID-19 continues. Your mental health may be more at risk as you not only navigate new transitions but also may be facing social isolation or increased anxiety. Part of maturing into adulthood is being able to acknowledge what you need and prioritizing your mental health.

In next month’s blog, we’ll focus on identifying depression symptoms and how to address those feelings of sadness and hopelessness. If you think you could benefit from therapeutic support as you enter into this school year, please don’t hesitate to call Milestones at (443) 574-4295. We wish you the best as you return to or continue on in your college journey!

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