The College Experience Isn’t Quite What It Used To Be

Published on September 2, 2020

The college experience is all about meeting new people, often in large groups, and learning things. These days, that’s much more complex than it used to be. For weeks there has been near-constant discussion about what to do with elementary and high school-aged students when it comes to distance versus in-person learning. But where does that leave American college students this back to school season?

In The Classroom

When most people think of the college experience they think of large lecture halls and jam-packed fraternity parties. As the pandemic continues to rage, with the U.S. passing 6 million cases this week, the country is torn between a desire to return to normal and a virus that just isn’t going away. For college students, this means questions about returning to campus versus online classes, questions about what fair tuition means without the full experience, and of course, the parties.

For many college students, the adjustment to online learning will not be that big of a leap. Most modern universities offered classes online to supplement in person learning long before the pandemic. It allows students greater scheduling flexibility, and accommodates various learning styles. College students are also used to being fully responsible for their own education. While parents of elementary aged kids are facing enormous new pressures, there is no such issue with college students.

Some students I spoke too were fairly happy with how their schools are responding. One Stanford student said, “I feel Stanford is doing what they can. I know that [the school] has been doing whatever is possible to ensure all students have access to online resources, such as giving our Chromebooks or lending phones to generate hotspots. So far I consider how things are going to be not ideal but also understandable”.

The Ups and Downs

The problem, of course, is the loss of in-person learning for many schools across the country. Students feel that if their colleges are providing reduced services, they in turn should pay reduced tuition. Many high profile colleges are charging full tuition despite a closed campus and online learning. Interactions and discussions with professors and fellow students are a significant part of what makes college such a fulfilling experience for those who truly want to learn, and the loss of that dynamic, even temporarily, is unfortunate.

While some students are okay with their school’s responses, others aren’t quite so satisfied. A sophomore at John’s Hopkins University told me, “I’m super unhappy with my school’s response. In July, they said we would be hybrid. Two weeks before school started, they changed, and announced classes would be fully online. They told us that none of us have housing and we aren’t allowed to be on campus. They haven’t provided any assistance in finding housing or financial support. To make things worse, a ton of kids are partying which is causing an increase in cases all over Baltimore.”

The Social Aspect

The college experience is not all about what goes on in the classroom. A huge piece of college as we know it is the social aspect. To be more specific, the parties. In the time of COVID-19, this presents a huge problem. According to CDCC guidelines, large gatherings are still fairly high risk endeavors. This is especially true when participants are not practicing social distancing or wearing masks. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a college party, but to put it succinctly, fat chance.

Intoxicated young people are unlikely to care about the risks of spreading a virus. This is perhaps why many campuses have chosen to close entirely. However, most college students are just planning on taking the party elsewhere, and keeping it a little more low key than usual.

In the year 2020, it’s impossible for college students to experience college the same way they did last year. With the onset of a global pandemic, the world is unquestionably a different place. It’s hard to say how the college experience will evolve from here. The landscape of those four years may be permanently changed, or this may be an opportunity for schools to grow and change to better accommodate their students.

Olivia Smith is a Staff Writer at Grit Daily. Based in San Francisco, she covers events, entertainment, fashion, and technology. She also serves as a Voices contributor at PopSugar.

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