Birthday parties. Music festivals. Half-sheet cakes from Costco. Let’s face it – COVID-19 has ruined a lot of things that normally bring people joy in life. But for many college students, one of the biggest casualties of the pandemic has been the traditional college experience.
As a student, you were probably looking forward to decorating your dorm, joining clubs, and meeting like-minded people in classes that actually interest you. But with many institutions opting for virtual instruction and enforcing social distancing rules, your college experience is now one giant question mark. Like, how does online college work? How are you going to meet people when everything is virtual? What can you do to salvage this year? Can you even salvage this year?
In regard to the last question, the answer is yes, you can. Although the pandemic has disrupted college life in many ways, there’s no reason you can’t turn your college experience around and make the most of a lame situation. Here’s how.
1. Embrace the Online College Community
We’ve been battling this pandemic for the better part of the year, which means that universities and colleges have had more than enough time to figure out how to move their campus activities and events online. All those clubs you were excited to join? You can still join them! College clubs, virtual or otherwise, are a great way to meet like-minded people and expand your networking opportunities.
Although it’s a bummer that you can’t physically meet right now, you can still make the most of student organizations by participating virtually. Take part in Zoom meetings, attend virtual events hosted by your organization’s leader, play icebreaker games, and join movie watch parties. Some schools are also using Zoom’s “breakout rooms” that allow the group to split up into smaller meetings for a more intimate chat.
Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, whether it’s suggesting an activity or asking to connect on social media. Everyone else is just as nervous about navigating the situation as you.
2. Take It Outside
Did you meet some cool people via Zoom or social media? That’s great! But let’s be real, there’s only so much your relationship can grow if it’s entirely virtual.
If you want to hang out with your new friends in person, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it. The easiest (and safest) way to do so is by meeting up at an outdoor location, since you’re less likely to be infected outside.
Keep in mind that being outside doesn’t eliminate your risk of catching the virus — it just makes it less likely. Therefore, you should think carefully about whether the people you want to hang out with are worth the risk.
3. Focus on Developing Professionally
Your social calendar has probably taken a major hit due to the pandemic. (Unless you’re an introvert, in which case, it more or less looks the same.) So, what are you going to do with all that free time you now have? Wallow in self-pity and allow COVID-19 to steal all your joy?
If you want to turn your college experience around, focus your efforts on developing yourself professionally. Use this time to find internships through Tallo that allow you to explore careers and gain real-world experience. Start developing strong relationships with professors by being an active participant during online classes and meeting with them (virtually or socially distanced) during office hours.
Don’t forget to try new things. Work on your own passion projects to hone useful skills and keep yourself busy. By the time you graduate, employers will be seriously impressed at how you managed to come out of a freakin’ global pandemic with a top-notch resume.
4. Form Virtual Study Groups
Just because your classes are now online doesn’t mean that you need to prep for exams alone. If you’re the type of student who learns better in a group environment, consider joining a virtual study group with your fellow students where you can ask questions and bounce ideas off each other.
Don’t have a virtual study group to join? Start one by sending out an email to the class and inviting students to join via Zoom, Slack, or Google Hangouts. Chances are, other students will be grateful you took the initiative.
5. Take Advantage of College Counseling Services
You’ve joined online clubs, made virtual friends, and have professional projects to keep your eyes on the prize. You’re doing your best to make the most of a bad situation, but, even so, there are going to be hard days where you struggle to see the positive.
We all have those days. One thing we don’t all have? Easy access to mental health care services. If your college or university has a counseling/psychological services center, do your mental health a big favor and take advantage of it. There is no shame in seeking help when you’re feeling depressed, anxious, or just plain stressed out.
Don’t have access to mental health services? Do an activity that relaxes you. Here’s a suggestion: Get your friends together (virtually) and have a Bob Ross Paint Night. It’s hard — or at least, harder — to be sad when you’re painting “happy little trees.”
6. Invest in Yourself
The pandemic has left many college students feeling lost, confused, and alone. On top of dealing with the normal stresses of higher education, you may be mourning the loss of the traditional college experience. But you don’t need to let this pandemic derail your plans for the future. Use this time to invest in yourself, and you’ll come out the other side much better for it.