College students are eagerly awaiting an answer to the question, “What’s going to happen on college campuses this fall because of coronavirus?” Although colleges and universities are working hard to plan for the fall semester, the truth is that most universities haven’t finalized their COVID-19 policies for the fall.
While what happens with college this fall is out of your hands, we’re starting to get a sense for the possible changes to college life students can expect.
In this article, we’ll go over six ways college may be different in Fall 2020. We’ll also help you assess how these changes could impact your life and help you figure out how to tackle these challenges!
So let’s dive in.
Many college students transitioned to distance learning as the spread of COVID-19 prompted campus closures. Some universities are opting to continue with distance learning in Fall 2020, too.
6 Ways College May Be Different in Fall 2020
There are at least ways we’re expecting college to be different in the fall of 2020. From distance learning to on-campus housing, it’s safe to say that many colleges will have to adjust how they serve students.
Before we get started, it’s worth remembering that each university is instituting its own unique COVID-19 policies. So while these changes won’t affect every student, there’s a good chance that your college will adopt at least one of these adjustments for the fall!
#1: Distance Learning
If your college closed early in the spring, then you probably already switched over to a distance learning model. Distance learning is when you take your college classes online from...well, a distance!
As universities start planning for the fall, many are considering sticking with distance learning for another semester. Schools considering this option believe that starting the semester with all classes operating remotely will be much easier for everyone than reopening campus at the beginning of the semester and just to close things down again.
California State University was the first school in the nation to announce plans to close campuses for in-person instruction in Fall 2020. Cal State will continue holding classes online for the duration of the fall semester and will consider reopening the campus in January 2021.
But not all schools are ready to make that decision. Some schools are considering distance learning but postponing making a formal decision until a little later in the summer. As of now, many schools are instructing their professors to prepare to offer high-quality online courses this fall in the event that campus must remain closed.
How to Prepare for Distance Learning
Students can prepare themselves for another semester of distance learning this fall by making sure they have consistent access to a working digital device and a reliable Internet connection. For students whose jobs or living situations were upended by college campuses closing, it might be a good idea to work on a back-up plan so that you’re able to stay in a safe and stable environment if your campus doesn’t reopen.
Alternatively, students can start reaching out to university staff now to seek information about whether accommodations might be made for students who usually depend on university housing, university-loaned digital devices, and other on-campus services for their learning needs each semester. Don’t be afraid to ask for help! Even though campus may be closed, there will still be support staff working around the clock to give students the resources they need in order to have a successful distance learning experience.
#2: Hybrid Learning Situations
Rather than close campus entirely, some schools are drawing up plans for hybrid learning this fall. What does hybrid learning mean, though? Hybrid learning means that a university will offer some classes in-person and on campus, while other courses will be held online.
For example, large, lecture hall courses that cap their capacity at 100, 200, or 300 students (or more!) would likely be offered as online-only options in a hybrid learning situation. Observing safe social distancing requirements would be challenging if classes of this size were offered face-to-face!
On the other hand, small courses with 20 students or less, like graduate seminars or upper-level undergraduate classes, might be offered as face-to-face learning options. Schools may institute rigorous social distancing policies, mask wearing policies, or even health screenings to keep in-person classes as safe as possible.
How to Prepare for Hybrid Learning
To get ready for a hybrid learning experience, you’ll need to be prepared to safely return to and navigate campus this fall. That may involve buying and wearing a mask, frequent hand washing and sanitizing, and having your temperature taken before you enter certain buildings on campus. You may also need to have a plan ready for travelling back to campus and moving into campus housing, so it’s important to start thinking about that now.
You should also think about how you can safely limit your exposure and the exposure of others. For example, if you were tutoring high school students for extra money, look into whether parents would be willing to move those interactions to Zoom instead. Also, talk to your family and make plans about traveling and visiting. You may decide to skip trips home for the semester until you can quarantine safely.
But hybrid learning means you may also have online classes, too. Luckily, those will probably look a lot like the distance learning you’ve already been doing this spring. If your school moves to a hybrid model and you return to campus this fall, you’ll need to make sure your tech is up to date. If you don’t have a computer, tablet, or laptop of your own, be sure to check with your university before you move onto campus about whether campus tech centers will be open.
Juggling online and face-to-face classes in one semester while also observing time-consuming safety measures may feel a little overwhelming, so it will be important to stay organized and manage your time well if your school moves to hybrid learning. Get a planner, wall calendar, or digital to-do list that you can use to stay on top of when and where your classes are, and in what format you need to submit assignments.
While big lectures are a hallmark of most college experiences, some schools are forgoing lectures in favor of smaller, more socially distant classes.
#3: Smaller In-Person Class Sizes
A common measure taken to curb the spread of COVID-19 has been to ban large gatherings of people in enclosed spaces. If schools decide to have in-person classes this fall, they’ll likely put policies in place to help minimize large groups and enforce social distancing measures.
Some schools may choose to offer in-person classes in small sections for the fall semester. That way students will come into contact with fewer people in enclosed spaces. This simply means that fewer students would be allowed to enroll in a course. Additionally, classes may be offered on a staggered schedule to try and minimize how many students congregate in common areas, like building hallways and elevators.
How to Prepare for Smaller Class Sizes
If you attend a school that reopens campus with smaller class sizes, you’ll need to be prepared to follow some of the social distancing guidelines we’ve already mentioned: mask wearing, hand washing, temperature taking, and possibly following very specific rules for entering and exiting rooms and buildings. It’s also quite likely that you’ll be required to sit at a specified distance from other students in the classroom, avoid making physical contact with other students, and leave class if you exhibit any symptoms of COVID-19. Some schools are even experimenting with installing plexiglass barriers between professors and students to minimize transmission!
Under these circumstances, you just need to pay attention, be patient with yourself and others in public spaces, and remember that you’re observing these guidelines to protect those around you. If you have specific questions about how to behave and what to do when it’s time to navigate campus buildings and classrooms, communicate with your professors and university support staff. They’ll be able to answer your questions about how to stay safe while attending classes and address any concerns you have about campus safety.
In-person classes may not be a great option for all students, though. If you’re a student that’s in a high-risk group for COVID-19 and your school plans to reopen in the fall, make sure you’re reaching out to your university as soon as possible. They may be able to make special arrangements (like online learning) for you to help keep you safe and healthy.
#4: No Study Abroad
We know that study abroad is the highlight of many students’ college experiences, so this one is a bummer: it’s a strong possibility that study abroad programs will be cancelled this fall.
As the coronavirus pandemic continues to spread globally, it’s tough for schools to predict the ways in which different locations will be impacted. Some schools may set restrictions for student international travel this fall, with the caveat that these restrictions could be lifted if the conditions due to the global pandemic change.
How to Prepare for No Study Abroad
This is a bit of a tricky one because there is a possibility that some schools could end up proceeding with study abroad programs this fall depending on the location of the program. If you have your heart set on studying abroad, or if you need study abroad course credits for your degree program, it’s still important that you submit your study abroad application for Fall 2020 just in case.
You’ll need to communicate with a study abroad advisor at your school to get all of the information you need about what to do if study abroad is cancelled and to learn about refunding options. In the meantime, check your school’s international studies website to ensure that study abroad applications are still being accepted. You should also check in there for updates on how COVID-19 is affecting study abroad programs at your school every couple of weeks.
If your school has already cancelled study abroad programs, then there are other things you can do to deal with the situation. If you’re a freshman, sophomore, or junior, you can talk to your advisor about how you can rearrange your course schedule to accommodate studying abroad during the 2021-2022 school year. That may mean rearranging your schedule a bit, but with your advisor’s help, it can be doable!
If you’re a senior this year, you may not be able to get a traditional study abroad experience. But you can start looking for international internships instead. This has the added benefit of helping you gain some experience in your field while still letting you live abroad.
Just keep in mind that depending on the state of the pandemic, traveling abroad may be risky. If you decide to pursue a study abroad opportunity or international internship, you’ll need to carefully weigh the risks against the benefits since traveling during a pandemic can put yourself and others at risk.
Some students who live on campus may find their living arrangements are a little different in the fall, too.
#5: Different Style of Dorm Living
A huge part of making a plan to safely reopen campus includes a detailed plan for housing students in on-campus accommodations this fall. Many schools want to reopen their dorms for students, but if they do, there will most likely be strict guidelines that student residents must observe in order to protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
For example, some schools might choose to house students in single rooms only, place restrictions on the number of students who can be in a community bathroom at the same time, and close dorm common areas and lobbies for hanging out and studying.
Other schools are thinking outside the box about where students can be housed, considering the possibility of placing students in unused office spaces, local hotel rooms, or off-campus housing. Much of this depends on how much space schools have on campus, how they plan to tackle classes (in-person, online, or both), and how many students plan to return to dorm life.
How to Prepare for Living On Campus
Even if you think schools won’t reopen this fall, it’s important to be prepared to return to campus. Be sure you have a plan for moving to campus and getting your belongings there. Talk with your parents or close friends about travel plans now, and make sure your dorm room packing checklist includes soap and hand sanitizer, a reusable mask, and a thermometer just in case.
If you are a student who is planning to live on campus this fall, keep up with your university’s campus housing website, social media pages, and emails this summer. You can reach out to housing coordinators with questions if you have concerns as well. They will do everything they can to make you aware of plans and new policies as soon as possible so you can make your own plans for (possibly) returning to campus this fall.
You should also make a contingency plan in case the university has to close again due to a COVID outbreak. Talk to your friends and family to decide when and how you’ll get home on short notice. You may even plan to move your belongings into storage if you have to move out quickly!
You should also talk to your family about deciding whether moving into dorms is the right decision at all. Remember: you also have the option to live off-campus, too. If you think off-campus living might be right for you, start looking for housing now. The best off-campus housing fills up pretty quickly, so you want to make sure you’re getting as much of a head start as you can.
#6: Delayed Start
Another scenario some schools are considering is starting the fall semester later than usual. This option bets on the coronavirus pandemic improving in late Fall 2020, at which time schools adopting this plan would reopen their campuses to students. Hypothetically, these delayed reopenings would occur in October or November.
Another delayed start model that’s been pitched by some schools is to start the 2020-2021 school year in January 2021 and continue the school year through the end of Summer 2021. So, in other words, both the fall and spring semester would be pushed back and crammed into spring and summer 2021, and there would be no courses offered during Fall 2020.
How to Prepare for a Delayed Start
Schools that are considering this plan (like Boston University, for example) recognize that delaying the start of the upcoming school year until next spring could present challenges for students who depend on their school for housing and meals, among other things. If this applies to you, start communicating now with a university official or mentor about potential solutions for your living situation this fall. Being upfront about your needs now will help the university do what it can to accommodate your situation later.
On the other hand, if you’ve already begun making travel plans for Summer 2021 (like for summer study abroad or an internship across the country, for instance), it might be a good idea to pump the brakes on those plans until you know whether your school is going to go with the delayed start model. You might end up needing to be on campus to take required courses next summer instead.
While there may be some big changes to the college experience in the fall, there's at least one thing that will be the same: you'll still be getting an education!
1 Way That College Won’t Be Different in Fall 2020
No matter what model colleges and universities choose to follow this fall, things are going to be different about the college experience in 2020 and possibly 2021. One thing won’t change, though: all of the work you’re putting in right now will still lead you to a college degree.
Every time you sign on for a virtual lecture or put on a mask to head to class, remember that you’re simultaneously getting an education and keeping yourself and others safe. Classes will still teach you information you need to know to be successful in your career, and you’ll still be learning new things all the time! Also, your grades will still matter, too...so make sure you’re keeping your grades up.
Though getting a degree is top priority, university employees also realize that having a campus experience is one of the most important parts of college for students. While it’s possible the in-person campus experience won’t happen this fall, know that schools are doing everything they can to come up with creative ways to help you stay connected with your friends, classmates, and campus life despite this unusual situation. Exploring your school’s new initiatives for keeping students in touch this fall can make your journey to a degree a little bit sweeter.
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Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.