Stories from College: students recall abrupt ending to spring semester while trying to plan for an uncertain future

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When I started my freshman year of college, I certainly had a lot of mixed feelings. I was anxious to get started, nervous about being in a new place and wondering what life would be like at my new school.

Of course, I never anticipated my first year would get interrupted by a worldwide pandemic.
So, like so many other students, I finished the school year not on campus but at home. And needless to say, it was a pretty remarkable experience on a lot of levels.

To get a better sense of what life was life for first-year college students during coronavirus, I interviewed seven of them (including myself) from a variety of schools (large, small, public, private, in-state, out-of-state, satellite, etc.). I’ll be sharing these as a series of posts in this space.

Here’s the seventh and final installment in this series – I recently completed my freshman year at a liberal arts college. Here are my answers to the questions I posed to six other college freshmen.

What college do you attend, and what is your intended major/s and possible minor/s?

I attend Swarthmore College, a small liberal-arts college 20 minutes outside Philadelphia. I am currently pursuing a double major in Economics and History.

When and how did your college react to the COVID-19 pandemic?

My college, while being aware of COVID-19 developments in Pennsylvania, did not predict the devastation with COVID-19 pandemic would bring when they sent us off for spring break on March 6. Although the day before my home school district of Northshore closed because of COVID-19 transmission concerns, I still only packed my off-season winter clothes and expected to return to campus soon. On March 11, the college president announced that break would be extended another week to allow professors to prepare for the transition to online learning, which was expected to last just two weeks. Only six days later, online learning was extended to the rest of the school year.  

How were you impacted by the transition to social distancing and online learning?

Despite not having most of my possessions, the transition to online learning went relatively smoothly for me. I am very appreciative of my roommate, who lived close to campus and was able to mail me my textbooks. During the extra week of break, my professors asked for student input on how to best adjust their course for online learning and best accommodate for people’s diverse circumstances. Of my four courses, one maintained our twice a week live lectures, one moved to be entirely asynchronous, and my other two courses combined live class experience with supplemental asynchronous work. I was very grateful to have a safe and comfortable place to continue my studies online, as the same could not be said for some of my peers. A home setting cannot serve as a replacement for a studious learning environment and, therefore, it is not conducive to intense academic work.

What were the benefits and drawbacks of your college online learning experience?

The benefits and drawbacks of my online learning experiences highly depended on my professors. Most of my professors were very supportive and flexible, offering extra office hours over Zoom later in the day to accommodate for those of us in different time zones and granting extensions or even concessions when needed. I would also add, that by moving to an online format, one of my younger professors became more organized in her delivery of the material. However, the transition was not as easy for one of my professors who was older and had a difficult time with the Zoom technology. 

I sincerely missed passionate conversations in the dining hall and spontaneous and late-night bathroom discussions with my hallmates.

Cami brix

To what extent and how did you keep in contact with your peers and professors at college?

Despite my more introverted tendencies, I worked hard to keep my connection to my college community and friends. For two of my classes, I helped arrange study groups. I regularly frequented my professors’ office hours and received feedback on several papers from the college Writing Center over Zoom.

While at a less capacity, I still spent time with my college friends. I continued my job as the Chief Copy Editor of the student newspaper over Google Docs and attended virtual game nights with the debate team. I sincerely missed passionate conversations in the dining hall and spontaneous and late-night bathroom discussions with my hallmates.   

Are you considering changing your plans to return based on what your college does? If so, would you consider taking a year off to work or do something else, transfer to another school, or plan to return no matter what?

I plan to continue my education at Swarthmore, even if we are still online. I feel that, while not perfect, professors have been actively trying to make online learning as successful as it can be. I value their commitment and hope to continue my learning this fall.

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Our seven-part series “Stories From School” shares the personal experiences of first-year college students from a variety of campuses during the coronavirus pandemic. Their perspectives on how things went can help guide colleges as they go about re-opening this Fall.

Béatrice Duchastel de Montrouge (Brown University)

Rachel Lawson (Fordham College of Rose Hill)

Olivia Sasson (University of British Columbia)

Nathan Mitchell (University of Washington)

Kara Leinenwever (UW Bothell/Arizona State)

Sigrun Payne (University of Puget Sound)

Cami Brix (Swarthmore College)