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.

According to Denise Hughley Hayes, director of counseling at Indiana University, students are experiencing a lot of uncertainty about the fall. Financial concerns, especially for student workers, are a big concern, she says. Because of these uncertainties, many students are considering community college or even taking a gap year to work.

Returning to work on campus raises the question of whether social distancing works in the work environment. Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education has tracked reopening plans for this fall. In an unscientific 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.

Online learning appears to be a consistent component for returning to campus. In Indiana, several schools have announced that there will be an online component for classes after Thanksgiving break.

Several Indiana colleges have announced that there will be an online component for classes after Thanksgiving break.

Students, too, should plan for things like orientation and campus visits to be different. At Indiana University, orientation will be virtual, Hughley Hayes says. Parents and students will be able to see welcome videos online. Campus tours will have a “GoPro” look to them. Hughley Hayes will even present Facebook Live shows where she can answer questions in real-time.

So, how can incoming students prepare for this uncertainty? The first thing that a student needs to do is to “recognize and act upon the pockets of control that we do have,” says Dr. Heather Servaty-Seib, a professor in counseling psychology at Purdue University. 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.

As parents, we need to also continuously share with our students that we, as adults, are in the same place that they are in at this moment in time. “Very few people are alive today that have experienced anything like this,” Hughley Hayes says. “It is scary to everyone.” Students need to acknowledge that they can’t always control what is going to happen and permit themselves to creatively manage their uncertainty.

Students should also affirm and acknowledge their feelings of uncertainty. Parents can help by listening and sharing their feelings. “Don’t freak out about being anxious,” Hughley Hayes says. “Find ways to cope with anxiety.”

Many schools have tele-counseling available to students. They also have webinars on mindfulness 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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