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Everything Has Changed: How COVID-19 Has Affected The College Experience

Kourtney Yadao in her Advanced Modern Dance class on Oct. 23.

The COVID-19 virus has shifted everybody’s plans for 2020, including college students and post-college graduates. 18 years of excitement built until the glorious moment when high school seniors received their diploma and moved on from the halls of high school into college life. The excitement of first classes, first games and first dates awaited incoming college freshmen. College seniors carefully started planning their graduation, thinking about internships and first jobs, maybe even the thrill of moving to a new city. All of these carefully thought out plans came to a crashing halt when COVID-19 entered the world.

Even with all of the chaos and uncertainty, students are still attending schools, despite the restrictions that have occurred over the past few months. In-person lectures have been traded for Zoom meetings. First day of class outfits now have a mask to match. Instead of choosing a seat next to a random other student in class, students distance 6 feet apart, trying to reduce contact as much as possible. For new first-year students on campus, these changes are their first experiences of college life. For seniors, their entire college experience has shifted from comfortable rhythms to uncertainty and panic. For some, job opportunities after college are disappearing, leaving them nervous and frightened for what will occur after graduation. Life after college is terrifying, and COVID-19 is making it that much worse. With the world feeling like it is upside down, how much is COVID-19 really affecting college students? 

Lizzie Reifsteck is a first-year student at Colorado State University studying zoology. Reifsteck was one of the many high school seniors this year who had to come to terms with the fact that their college experience was going to change. She kept her hopes high over the summer, awaiting news that maybe her college experience would go back to normal. As the final days of summer approached, she knew that she was going to have to adjust to a COVID-19 college experience.  

“Over the summer, I had this like hope that it would just kind of disappear.” says Reifsteck. “But when it came on campus, it was interesting because I didn’t realize how many of my classes weren’t going to be in-person. I feel like the week before I got all these emails that were like ‘Oh, hey, just so you know, this class is going to be on Zoom or online’… It’s just been kind of crazy to like realize, ‘Oh, I’m like going to school, but it’s all online.’ It’s very strange.” 

Zoom classes are something that most college students never dreamed that they would have to experience. The college experience is supposed to include in-person classes and learning with their fellow peers about topics that they want to potentially dedicate their lives to. But due to COVID-19, college students this semester were forced to make a choice between either continuing their education, which might mean potentially lower-value classes, all while paying the same tuition, or taking a semester off, leaving many students floundering with no idea of what to do with their life.

Yadao in dance class 6 feet apart wearing masks
Kourtney Yadao in her Advanced Modern Dance class on Oct. 23. Yadao is studying dance and said she enjoys “being able to be creative in my own artistic way.” (Ryan Schmidt | College Avenue)

Another area that’s changed since the pandemic started is social interaction. Fewer students are hanging out together due to restrictions, or they’re limiting the time that they spend with others. Students are sticking to smaller groups of already formed friends, hoping to protect themselves from getting the virus or even giving it to others. Reifsteck has been playing it safe with social interactions, making sure that she’s being as safe as possible. Even though she’s choosing to not be near as many people, she still wishes that there were more social interactions.

“I really wish there was more interaction with people,” says Reifsteck. “Obviously, when you go to college, that’s one of the things you consider like, ‘Oh, what’s the social life like?’ I mean it wasn’t the main decision, but it’s one of those things you factor in. I think that yeah, it would be nice to have more interaction, but obviously, I’d rather not get COVID-19.”

Even though there are fewer in-person clubs, many CSU clubs are still meeting, just a little differently, either on Zoom or in smaller groups. Amy Quinn-Sparks, manager of academic advising and support for CSU online, recommends using the CSU website to locate clubs on-campus. 

“If someone searches student organizations, or something like that, they can then get all the information on the website of how to meet with students,” says Quinn-Sparks. “If it’s an online student who isn’t living in Fort Collins or northern Colorado, the student can talk to the Alumni Center. The Alumni Center can give them information about other Rams in their area.”

With a few years of college already under their belt, seniors are having to get rid of traditions, patterns and a school rhythm that have been established. For Kourtney Yadao, some of the changes are not only to her major, but also her future career. Yadao is a senior majoring in dance. Unlike Reifsteck, Yadao has prior years at CSU to compare to the chaotic nature of this school year.

As a dance major, Yadao worried that her experience this year might be a lot different than in years past. Dance majors have some non-studio dance classes, like math or science, but many of their classes are in-person at the studio. Before COVID-19, Yadao spent countless hours in the dance studio, perfecting her routines and practicing, both on school days and weekends, all on top of an already full class schedule. Thankfully, though, Yadao is finding a lot of similarities between this year and years past.

“Thankfully, I am still in-person for my dance classes as much as it can provide. There are very big protocols that we have taken within our whole program and what we’ve done at CSU. I believe that’s fantastic,” says Yadao. “The only thing that really sucks is that our technique time, our dance time, is usually an hour and 40 minutes, give or take, so almost basically two hours… But the thing is with protocol, is that we have to push all of that into a one- hour class, and to do that is very different, especially dancing in a mask.”

Kourtney Yadao stretching before class starts
Kourtney Yadao warms up in Advanced Modern Dance class on Oct. 23. Yadao is studying dance and said she enjoys “being able to be creative in my own artistic way.” (Ryan Schmidt | College Avenue)

Yadao is still willing to adhere to these protocols because she’s doing what she loves, which rings true for a lot of college students. The differences between this year and years past aren’t enough to detract students from their love of what they’re studying. They’ll work through regulations, even if it might be a bit uncomfortable, like in Yadao’s case, just so they can continue to pursue their passion.

On top of masks, distancing and shorter times, the dance program’s performances are also getting a renovation. The dance performances will still continue like in years past, but due to COVID-19, some changes will occur. An option to watch the performance virtually will be introduced, which will open up the opportunity for people who can’t see the show in person.

“We are thankful enough that we will still have a concert,” says Yadao. “There will be very limited guests in the audience, but I believe what they’re trying to do… they’re going to broadcast it. You can buy your tickets online, but you can stream it onto your laptop or any device and you can watch it from home. It’s a nice sensation to have a live audience, and although our audience will be reduced, we’re still going to be thankful that we’re still able to do what we’re able to do as dancers.”

Even though COVID-19 has made it more difficult to interact with other college students, Yadao is still finding opportunities to interact with others and meet new people. On top of dancing, Yadao also helps run the dance club at CSU. The dance club is a fun opportunity for students who want to get involved in dance, even if students aren’t a dance major. She says the dance club is still thriving as much as it was before, even with the restrictions that COVID-19 has placed on it.

Probably the biggest change that seniors are having to make is thinking about post-graduation plans. COVID-19 has changed a lot of industries in ways that were never thought possible. Many students are having to set their dream on hold, potentially settling for a job that they might not have wanted. Yadao is no exception. She is thinking about what’s going to happen post-college with her upcoming graduation in the spring and the uncertainty that COVID-19 has brought. Yadao is looking at the positive in this, though, realizing that plans can change in a heartbeat, as COVID has taught everybody.

Kourtney Yadao studying at the university center for performing arts
Kourtney Yadao studies in the University Center for the Arts on Oct. 23. Yadao is studying dance and said she enjoys “being able to be creative in my own artistic way.” (Ryan Schmidt | College Avenue)

“You’ll always have that adrenaline and anxiousness coming out if you can’t find a job because that’s the first true look into post-graduation,” says Yadao. “But in the end, I also don’t think I should worry as much, I believe. COVID-19 also really set that up for us to not really worry if we cannot, cause there’s always a way for a person to get back up to where they need to be.”

Even though there might be more stress in finding a job, Katie Flint, director of employer connections at the career center, reassures seniors that there are still jobs out there. Even if it seems like there’s nothing out there, it’s a good idea to utilize resources available, like the career center, a mentor, or even a professor.

“There’s assumption that there’s absolutely nothing available, but that is so not true,” says Flint. “We still have so many employers who are looking to hire, whether it be for full-time or internships… We really encourage the students to use all the resources that they have available to them.”

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