Updated: Jun 22, 2022
A spring 2021 study conducted by Inside Higher Ed and College Pulse reveals thoughts and feelings of current college students as they anticipate returning to college and university campuses this fall. Using the 2021 survey results and my experience as Director of New Student Experience and Parent Programming for 10 years on a college campus in the Northeast, I offer recommendations and considerations for students as well as campus administrators as colleges and universities open up to returning students this fall.
1. Get Excited For In-Person Learning
One of the findings from this study that is echoed in many other recent surveys, showed that college students (freshman through seniors) are anxious to return to in-person learning. According to the Inside Higher Ed study “Envisioning life after COVID, nearly one-third [of students] ‘never want to take another class via Zoom’...half responded that while some things about remote learning worked for them, they are ‘anxious to get back to all or more in-person classes.”
Tip for Students: If you feel awkward in your first few days or weeks of class, you are not alone! Your peers (and professors) haven’t been inside a classroom in probably 12-18 months. It might initially be awkward to see your vaccinated peers without masks. Everyone will feel the same way and I’m sure will have a combination of excitement and nervousness. Anxiety is normal so try to go with the flow, be flexible and have a sense of humor.
Tip for College Administrators: Prepare to offer as many in-person classes as safely possible. Student enrollment for in-person classes I anticipate to be significant. Be sure to offer enough sections to meet student demand. Be flexible with class seating caps and know that students who are on the waitlist are eager to return to the classroom.
2. Time Management Struggles
If your students have been learning primarily through virtual classroom environments, they may already have experienced struggles in managing their schedules and organizing homework. Students’ executive functioning skills were put to the test during 2019 and 2020 as students’ brains tried to manage time in a virtual learning world. If your student struggled to remember due dates and find structure in their seemingly endless days, they are not alone! These same students now may face struggles in learning how to manage their time in a “traditional” college in-person environment.
Tip for Students: As soon as you receive your semester class schedule, create a visually weekly schedule. I work with students to create either a visual schedule that they print out and hang on their dorm room wall or put into their binders or an electronic schedule such as this one by Study Gizmo. Once you make a schedule of your classes, be sure to add in any other appointments you may have such as laundry, working out, clubs and activities, etc.
Having a visual schedule from Day 1 of your semester will help you stay organized and managing your time - two very important college skills! If you are interested in other executive functioning skills that you can practice this summer, check out this article!
Tip for College Administrators: More than ever before, students may need extra structure and assistance in managing their time. Campus academic support centers should consider offering additional or enhanced skill workshops to help students learn time management, study skills and organizational strategies for college success.
3. Take Advantage of Social Opportunities
Another finding from the recent Inside Higher Ed study reveals that students are excited to return to campus to engage in new social connections and extracurricular activities. While they are looking forward to social opportunities, many students reported feeling anxious about not knowing anyone on campus after spending a year or more isolated in a virtual environment.
Tip for Students: Don’t be afraid to ask questions of campus staff and professors when you arrive on campus. It may have been over a year since you were on campus and it’s completely understandable if you don’t remember where a classroom building is located or remember the hours of the dining hall.
Also, take advantage of the extracurricular activities being offered on campus. College has always been an academic as well as social experience and, now more than ever, take advantage of activities on campus and go outside of your comfort zone to meet new people.
Tip for College Administrators: Orientation programs typically designed for new college freshmen and transfer students may need to include returning students (sophomores in particular) who may not have stepped foot on campus last academic year. Students may need flexibility and extra patience from professors and campus staff as they cautiously venture back onto an in-person campus.
Also, students will be seeking connection and campuses should offer additional extracurricular activities and opportunities to meet the increased student demand.
4. Benefits of Common Spaces
In the pre-Covid world of higher education, common spaces on campus were often utilized by commuter students and others who were looking for a place outside of their dorm room to study, relax and be around others. In fact, 250 of the Inside Higher Ed survey respondents reported that they were looking forward to returning to campus to take advantage of campus libraries and study spaces.
Tips for Students: Seek out the common spaces on your campus. If you don't know where they are, don't be afraid to ask your resident advisor (RA), professor or students activities director. After spending a year or more in front of your computer screen (most likely in your bedroom) it can feel strange to leave your dorm room to do homework. But step outside of your comfort zone and spend some time around other students (safely of course).
Tips for College Administrators: Students may not accustomed to working in shared common spaces around others so ask your resident life staff to encourage students to leave their dorm room and take advantage of their campus. Post the name and location of common spaces in the dining hall, disability support office and in academic buildings. Send reminders of these spaces via email and encourage students to leave their residence halls. Students have developed habits of being alone in front of their computer screens. It may take some time, and encouragement, to develop new habits. and find new ways to interact on campus.
Bottom Line: It's normal for students to feel both excited and nervous about returning to campus. Students and campus staff are looking forward to returning to the "old normal" this fall. Keeping in mind the four tips listed above will help make the experience successful and safe for everyone!
Do you think your student may need a little bit of extra support this semester?
Fast Forward College Coaching meets with college students across the country
1-2x week to assist with organization of assignments, time management self-advocacy, reminders to check email and much more!
Help your students returning to campus by providing them with touchstones of support from a professional who can assess their transition. Unlike colleges and universities, I provide frequent feedback to parents!
Are you interested in learning more? Explore our website or let's arrange a time to have a conversation. I look forward to getting to know you and your student!