Uni Life and Covid-19

by Jenni Brooks
Reviewed by Dr Sheri Jacobson

Moving to university, living away from home, and studying a subject you love... it should be the most exciting time in a young person’s life. And you’ve managed to get into school despite the grades fiasco!

But thanks to the unprecedented Covid-19 pandemic, student life is a vastly different experience. And could remain so for some time.

What do you need to know about the new student stress, and how can you cope better with uni life in a pandemic?

The new uni life is online

Since March, many universities have quickly transitioned away from classroom led learning, with lectures held through Skype or Zoom. And even, such as the case with King’s College London, exams replaced by 24-hour online open book tests.

True, if you are a younger student who has grown up with social media and internet access, it might not seem a big deal. According to a study from Greece on student behaviour during lockdown, many younger students haven’t had much difficulty with switching to online participation.

But that doesn’t mean it inspires giving your all. Without the social interaction, boredom can set in. The same study admits that “one could not neglect the fact that the students seem to be passive rather than energetic users, in participating actively and utilising their creativity. This could be another field that could be further researched and studied.”

And a more recent survey, “The Impact of Covid-19 on Student Experiences and Expectations,” saw approximately 50% of students report a decrease in their study hours and academic performance.

Money, space, technology and student life

Socioeconomics have always come into play with learning, including online learning. Not everyone has access to good technology, or the money to not have to work alongside their studies.

A pre-pandemic review, “Does Online Education Live Up to Its Promise?”, claimed that “gaps in educational attainment across socioeconomic groups are even larger in online than in traditional coursework.” And Covid-19 has made things worse. Much worse.

According to a survey of over 1500 undergraduate students in the USA, “Covid-19 has nearly doubled the gap between the expected grades of higher and lower income students.”

Students might now be working more to support their family if a family member has been made redundant due to the crisis. And it's all fine if you live in a middle-class spacious home, but for many, parents now working at home because of the pandemic or siblings not at school can mean no privacy to study.

College life without a social life?

A main part of university life that young adults look forward to is gaining independence and caring for themselves, instead of relying on their parents.

But many will be robbed of that opportunity if the university they are applying to has decided to teach the whole of the next academic year online. This is the case in universities such as Cambridge.

This has put many students in a catch-22 situation. On one hand they want to get a degree, but on the other they want to live away from home. According to a recent article by the BBC, many young people are in the difficult position of having to decide whether they want to defer their course, reapply, or adapt to a whole different university experience.

How to navigate the new uni life

1. Get the facts about campus life during Covid-19.

It’s important to know what you are up against, as opposed to anxiety-inducing headlines or gossip. Call the university and find out if how they are handling things works for you (or doesn’t).

For example, the University of Kent has adopted a no-detriment policy in which students won’t graduate with a classification lower than the overall grade they achieved before the pandemic. Others, like the University of Birmingham, have given more leniency in terms of requesting for an extension on assignments, as they realise it is now more difficult to obtain medical evidence from doctors.

2. Ask good questions.

Not sure whether to defer or not? Remember this is your experience, and it matters what works for you, not just what your friends or parents think.

  1. Will you be able to stay focused if it remains online learning for awhile?
  2. What is the part of university you were most looking forward to? (If it was the social part, that might change your decision).
  3. What are your actual anxieties about going to uni this year? Are there solutions for them?
  4. What would a year off look like? Could you live with that? Or would it be no better or worse than still attending?
  5. What could you achieve otherwise if you don’t go to school this year?

3. Avoid black and white thinking.

Living in a pandemic world is stressful, and it can affect our thoughts. We can start havingcognitive distortions’, thoughts that seem real but are not actually not. This can look like doom and gloom thinking, and black and white thinking.

Try to keep your thinking balanced. Ultimately, the thing to remember is that although student life is difficult and different at the moment, it won’t last forever.

Even if freshers have to adjust to online learning during their first year, this doesn’t necessarily mean they will miss out on gaining their independence. Hopefully, they will still get to experience their second and third years like any other year group. And when we get to experience normality again, we might appreciate it even more.

Suffering from stress and lethargy and even with lockdown lifting can't feel yourself anymore? Book a session with a counsellor and talk your way back to feeling yourself again.

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