College Life Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

COVID-19 has affected almost every facet of our lives. For college students, the campus and classes look different today than yesterday, and some of these temporary changes may end up being permanent. How will COVID-19 affect the college experience for students today and tomorrow? Nurses COVID Article Magazine

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College Life Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow

My twin daughters were born two weeks before 9/11. Although they entered the world before this tragedy, they grew up not knowing any different when it comes to travel and life before we suffered such shock and uncertainty. My daughters started college last fall and had a semester and a half of college life before COVID-19 caused them to virtually finish the rest of the semester. Although they had that small taste of college life, it seems as if college, and everything, may eventually have a new normal due to COVID-19.

College Then and Now

Last year as my daughters prepared for school, we shopped for the usual things for new first-year college students. Like a mattress pad, a fan, blankets, and other necessities. This fall, their school supplies include face masks, cleaning supplies, anti-bacterial hand sanitizer, and a no-touch forehead infrared thermometer.

My daughters had spent the year before they graduated high school researching colleges to determine the one that suited their needs best. Albeit it’s a smaller campus, but it provides the college community life and traditions they'd anticipated enjoying—which may all come to change. College is more than the academic experience if you’re living on the campus and offers the sense of community that accompanies this transition in life. One that will now need to be much smaller. Instead of encouraging growing a social network, students will be encouraged to nurture the college experience virtually.

College Housing

While 9/11 brought many of us together, unfortunately, COVID-19 has put many of us at odds. A nurse raised them, so hand hygiene, promoting wellness, and sanitizing aren’t anything new to my daughters, but applying these practices to everyday life, and wearing a mask for most of the day, is. I want my daughters to have the college experience and also understand the mixed feelings many communities may have of the risks that accompany an influx of individuals from all over the country.

Last fall, we arrived at the fun chaos of parents dropping off students, welcoming committees, assemblies, and a lengthy move-in time throughout the day. This year our time is scheduled and limited, and interactions are discouraged. My daughters can’t share the same room anymore and had fewer housing options with efforts to maintain social distancing, decrease contact and reserve housing for those that might need quarantining.

Class Structure

The school, like many, has made many preparations for the return of students. However this fall will be a learning experience for all of us, as this year has been. Many students, who have grown up in the virtual era, were looking forward to college’s in-person experience. The student’s opportunity to collaborate with peers, and marinate in the academic environment, was changed significantly.

Many schools present a robust, virtual classroom, although other classes or professors are not equipped, or prepared, to offer this learning environment. After being thrust into the virtual classroom this Spring, many professors rallied to the challenge, but others were left unprepared for this type of learning experience and scrambled to create remote learning options, move materials online, and design learning experiences in alternative ways.

Classes this fall provided more options since they will be virtual, hybrid, or in-person. The restructure to smaller in-person courses was accompanied by an expansion of days and times available, and may have resulted in challenges to get into the desired class. Most likely, this type of change in classrooms will continue. Professors will have to become better prepared, and more creative, to meet these challenges.

Altering Expectations

Daily routines have evolved from just concerns on setting the alarm to get to class on time to monitoring contact tracing, daily temperatures, and testing for COVID-19 is at the forefront of most minds more than academic testing. Students canceled internships, studying abroad, or Spring break trips and others graduated to find the job they’d expected was no longer available.

Family time has become more cherished, and independence more necessary than ever.

Communications last year included chatting via FaceTime with our daughters, we didn’t realize that would be the new normal for this semester. Parents or any visitors outside of campus are discouraged from dropping in. Although we are hours away, the option to visit was always there. For a parent aware of today’s circumstances, it leaves the fear that if someone gets sick, whether a student or parent, you might not be there.

Last year my daughters worked in the dining hall, and most of their work consisted of filling the buffet and salad bar and other food items. As Spring wound down while COVID-19 wound up, the buffet availability reduced to no longer self-serve, takeout was encouraged, and precautions were taken around handling cards with a no-touch system. This year, take out is the only option.

College Life Tomorrow

COVID-19 has caused some students to change their plans. They may have decided to take a gap year to wait it out until we gain a better hold on the virus, or consider options outside of traditional college. They may remain at home to rethink plans and take a pause to think if the cost of college—both financially, physically, and emotionally—is what they want now, or maybe ever.

For some, this is a pause or inconvenience while. In contrast, others may pause their plans and may follow a different path other than college or choose a different educational system. These college admissions reductions may result in increased costs and prompt colleges to consider redesign with a multi-faceted approach.

  • Increased virtual classrooms, and a focus on increasing relevance to local students
  • Providing short-term educational experiences for laid off workers
  • Additional on-line resources to make the most of in-person education
  • Embracing creative educational techniques
  • Shifting college socialization and traditions toward new virtual norms
  • Emphasis on promoting health & wellness and smaller classes
  • Market to those who are considering the nursing profession, or have grown to appreciate health care workers, as many now have a better understanding and appreciation of these essential roles

Rallying Amongst Uncertainty

Uncertainty remains not just for college but for all of us. As we struggle to find a new normal, we remain apprehensive that we may have to backtrack the baby steps we’ve made. We may hesitate to make plans that we don’t know if we can keep as we’re more aware of our vulnerabilities. These are small hardships and just a glimpse into the domino effect this virus has had on our lives. Many have faced much more difficult challenges and tragedies due to COVID-19.

Amidst all these uncertainties, one thing remains certain: the resiliency of the human spirit. The ability to adapt and evolve has gotten us this far, and hopefully, one day we'll look back at this transition from today to see how far we have come tomorrow


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Maureen Bonatch MSN, RN draws from years of experience in nursing administration, leadership and psychiatric nursing to write healthcare content. Her work has appeared in numerous health system websites and healthcare journals. Her experience as a fiction author helps her craft engaging and creative content. Learn more about her freelance writing at and her fiction books at

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