Montclair, NJ – Typically, when summer ends, college students pack up and head back to school for the fall.
This summer has been anything but typical.
The COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt life in the U.S., and college students have been put in a difficult predicament. Many schools have different plans for returning to education, whether in-person or virtual, requiring students to make tough decisions about how they will continue their learning.
A gap semester or year? Online classes? In-person learning? A hybrid model? These are the decisions that college students have had to make as the upcoming fall semester looms nearer. And for many students and families, there is no one-size-fits-all answer.
Recent Instagram polling suggests that 50% of Montclair college students who responded are going back to campus for the fall semester. 37% percent of respondents said they were taking classes online, and 12% said they had deferred for the semester or the year.
Gabe Schreiber, a 2019 MHS graduate who recently completed his first year at Occidental College in Los Angeles, has an elaborate plan for continuing his education. Occidental announced an online semester for the fall, with complete remote learning for all of their students.
“I didn’t really want to take the semester off,” explained Schreiber. “I don’t even know what I would do with a gap semester. I wouldn’t feel comfortable living at home and working, because I could expose my mother to the virus.”
Schrieber decided that instead of paying for Occidental’s online classes, he would instead transfer to Rutgers University for a semester, and take online classes for an in-state price. Since those classes could be taken from anywhere, he decided to move south to Texas, where an Occidental friend offered him free room and board on his ranch.
“I feel like I made the most of the situation,” Schreiber said. “I am looking forward to seeing how the virtual Rutgers classes are, and I’m excited to live in a new place at the same time.”
Temple University junior Djoume Traore, a 2018 MHS graduate, worried that returning to campus feels like a money-grab, more than a return to a safe environment. Nevertheless, Traore is headed back to Temple this fall.
“The whole process has felt really disingenuous,” explained Traore. “I appreciate that a lot of people have worked hard to have us return to Philadelphia, but it really feels like we’re playing with fire, considering the uncertainty of it all.”
That uncertainty has prompted many schools to go entirely online, including Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania. The school’s online classes began last week.
“Online classes are definitely an adjustment,” said Abby Romano, a 2020 MHS graduate and freshman at Lafayette. “However, getting into a good routine every morning has kept me motivated to learn in a virtual setting.”
For first-year students taking classes online, their introduction to college will be nothing like the typical college experience. Starting their higher education from home is not the experience they expected, and online classes are unfamiliar territory for many.
“It’s hard not being able to meet the other students and my professors in person because although I can see them through Zoom, it’s not the same,” explained Romano. “But, I’ve been able to adjust because there are fewer distractions from home, and therefore I’m able to be very productive.”
While there may be fewer distractions, there are also fewer typical college experiences like bonding with roommates, studying at the library and socializing at gatherings.
Many seniors have had their plans for their last year drastically changed, as the pandemic has altered how they envisioned finishing college.
“As a senior, I am really grateful to be able to be on campus and take some classes in person, although I do feel bad for the professors in this situation,” said Kayleigh Weil, a 2017 MHS graduate and a senior at Syracuse University.
Syracuse follows the hybrid-model, inviting students back to campus and offering online and in-person classes.
“They want to offer us the best quality education, and that definitely means in-person instruction in most cases, but that comes at the risk of exposing themselves and their families, so it’s a hard position for everyone to be in.”
No one ever expected that getting an education would be such a potentially dangerous experience, nor can anyone predict how long the colleges which have chosen to remain in-person will be able to do so. For now, a lot of resilience, patience — and hand-washing – are in this generation’s future.
Lucas Cooperman is a rising sophomore at Northeastern University, studying media, screen studies and journalism.