There’s no doubt COVID-19 has spoiled the college experience, especially for underclassmen

YCP orientation leaders preparing to welcome new students in Fall 2020 (taken from York College Instagram).

By Alyson Hatfield

Now as a sophomore in college, I have never sat in a classroom without a mask on. I have had classes with the same group of people for four semesters and I have no idea what most of them look like without a mask on.

As a senior in high school preparing to go off to college, everyone tells you how amazing the college experience will be. You will make so many friends, meet people from all over the world, you will join clubs, and go to all sorts of fun events. But for those of us who started college in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we haven’t been able to do all those things.

‘School has been lonely’

College is stressful when there is not a pandemic happening but, according to the director of York College counseling services, Darrell Welt, “since COVID-19 started, students have been experiencing increased stress.” An increase in stress causes people to self-isolate (SAMHSA,2014), and when you are trying to branch out and meet new people, additional stress can get in the way of that.

When asked about how COVID affected socializing with peers, sophomore Alex Merritt said, “I think COVID definitely made it harder to branch out and meet new people upon entering college. As I am someone who doesn’t frequently leave my comfort zone, it became isolating at times when I was unable to easily connect with the people in my classes or through clubs.”

Added sophomore Juneau Sykes said, “Since I started out college on Zoom, people just haven’t been interested in branching out to meet new people. School has been lonely!”

Now that classes have started transitioning back to in-person, it has been easier to connect with peers. “It helps because, in virtual classes, the breakout rooms are relatively awkward. I think in-person feels more organic compared to virtual classes,” sophomore Reginald Sullivan said.

Personally, as someone who has always struggled with making friends, I was determined to come into college as a more outgoing person who introduces myself to everyone and joins every club. However, COVID had other plans. It is almost impossible to meet new people when you have to stay 6 feet away from everyone.

This effect hasn’t just been seen by students. “Since being back on campus and offering in-person sessions again, we experienced an increase in the number of students requesting services,” Welt said.

This isn’t just a York College issue. In a survey done by Best Colleges in November 2021, they found that nine out of 10 college students said that they had some sort of mental health impact due to COVID-19. Additionally, 46% of those surveyed said that they felt socially isolated and lonely. In a September 2021 survey done by the Harvard Crimson, 91% of the students who said COVID affected their mental health said that the cause was social isolation.

As for what the administration could be doing differently, Merritt said: “At the time of entering college, I felt that clubs especially should not have been paused. I think they could have at least been held on Zoom because losing that feature of the college experience was a major factor in the lack of interaction between students. Even communication through a screen is better than no communication at all.”

Performance has suffered

For some, not being able to socialize with their peers has caused them to struggle in their classes.

“I feel like I haven’t been able to perform as well due to the decreased ability in collaborating with my peers,” Sykes said.

Some people have said they need that extra socialization to thrive academically, and not having a connection with those in your classes can make it harder to reach out for help.

The survey done by Best Colleges found that 44% of students have been struggling with laziness and a lack of focus, 37% said they have had a hard time with the school-to-life balance, and 35% have experienced self-doubt.

From my experience having done two semesters of hybrid classes and one full semester in-person, I can confidently say that in-person classes make it so much easier to learn.

My first two semesters were extremely difficult and I felt as though I barely learned anything, but after just one semester of in-person classes, my academic performance improved and I felt that I learned more than the other two semesters combined.

When on Zoom, there are numerous distractions, from your roommate who is also in class to loud floor mates. There is also no sense of accountability because students can turn off their cameras and play on their phones, leaving the Zoom class to background noise. For people who have good self-control, however, this is less of an issue. With virtual classes, I, and many others, had no motivation to make myself focus.

With COVID guidelines changing daily, it seems more likely that we will soon return to “normal” and underclassmen will start to experience what a typical college experience is like. It is nice to be able to sit in a classroom and engage with your classmates, but it will probably take a while to feel comfortable sitting in closer proximity.

How to Cope With Stress Caused by COVID

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSHA), 2014

Know the Signs of Stress

— An increase or decrease in your energy — Having trouble relaxing or sleeping — Crying frequently — Wanting to be alone most of the time — Blaming other people for everything — Having difficulty communicating or listening — Having difficulty giving or accepting help — Inability to feel pleasure or have fun — Having stomach aches or diarrhea — Having headaches and other pains — Being anxious or fearful — Feeling angry — Not caring about anything — Feeling overwhelmed by sadness — Having trouble remembering things — Having trouble thinking clearly and concentrating — Worrying excessively

How to Relieve Stress

— Eat healthy foods and drink water. — Avoid excessive amounts of caffeine. — Get enough sleep and rest. — Get physical exercise. — Relax your body often by doing things that work for you — take deep breaths, stretch, meditate, wash your face and hands, or engage in pleasurable hobbies. — Pace yourself between stressful activities, and do a fun thing after a hard task. — Use time off to relax — eat a good meal, read, listen to music, take a bath, or talk to family. — Talk about your feelings to loved ones and friends often.

If you or anyone you know are struggling please contact counseling services, at 717.815.6437 or email counselingservices@ycp.edu.

Alyson Hatfield is a sophomore majoring in political science and minoring in public relations.

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