A term like no other calls for support like no other
For the incoming students attending school on campus this fall, it’s anything but business as usual. Mandatory masks. No large groups. Socially distanced classrooms, labs, dining halls and campus union buildings. Athletics, by and large, are canceled or delayed. Even life inside the dorms will be different, with fewer roommates and increased cleaning mandates. With all of this going on — as well as the usual challenges of acclimating to a more independent lifestyle and the rigors of higher ed academics — how can you help your students learn the ropes, integrate into campus life and stay strong? And what are some ways to help them prepare for the unexpected year ahead?
1. Health is priority one
One big change to campuses this term is the advent of frequent COVID-19 checks — including large-scale testing at many institutions. Recommendations vary, but some schools will be screening students for coronavirus every 2-3 days. If a student tests positive, they will have to quarantine, as will those they came in close contact with. The same goes for faculty and staff. This is in addition to protocols around masks, social distancing, and completely reimagined approaches to dining and residential life. The more everyone on campus remains COVID-free, the more likely the campus can stay open.
2. Do the prep work from home
Knowing that this term will look different, many colleges and universities are asking students to do more of the preparation work — registering for classes, finalizing financial aid, completing medical paperwork and so on — before ever setting foot on campus. This can minimize the need for waiting in lines and having in-person meetings. So be proactive and take advantage of whatever your institution lets you check off the list ahead of time.
3. Maximize your orientation
Orientation usually begins in the weeks before classes get underway — well before you move onto campus. But this year, institutions are either downsizing it dramatically (including canceling it outright) or moving it entirely online. Just remember that everyone is as anxious, nervous, excited, uncertain and apprehensive as you are. Regardless of the format, orientation is your chance to ask lots of questions and get used to college life.
4. Know what to expect
Obviously life on campus won’t be business as usual. That’s why it’s important to read anything and everything your college or university sends to you. Things change daily, so be sure to check the website too for updates and additional information. That way, once you reach campus, you won’t be surprised to find that your entire extended family won’t be allowed to help you move in. Or that there are strict protocols in place for mask wearing, using common areas in the dorm, visiting the library and going to the dining hall.
5. Go with the flow
Under normal circumstances, things can change quickly on a college campus — a reality that’s exacerbated during a pandemic. There’s a chance that at some point during the term, further social distancing restrictions may be enacted on campus. There’s also a chance that one of your professors or a fellow student might get sick. And there’s always a chance that a change in the situation may require courses to go online — either temporarily or for the duration of the term. There’s no need to dwell on this or be overly concerned. But knowing the possibilities can lessen the blow if things have to change. Having given it some thought, you’ll be better mentally prepared.
6. Connect with your campus
College is the perfect place for you to explore existing interests and embark on new ones. Maybe you’re interested in student government or volunteer activities. Maybe you like to go hiking, play ultimate Frisbee or get your LARP on. On any campus, getting involved is as easy as joining a club, attending a game or finding a way to lend a hand. That said, the way some of these events take place during COVID-19 may be different than in the past, but you can still find a way to connect — with your fellow students and your campus.
7. If your financial situation changes, reach out to financial aid
Odds are you have scholarships, grants, work study or student loans that help cover your tuition, as well as room and board. Great. But what happens if your family’s financial situation changes before you begin the term or partway through? Because of coronavirus-related economic issues, more and more families are experiencing reduced work hours or unemployment. The financial aid office is there to work with you — with programs and options that can help. So if your monetary situation changes, make sure to touch base with financial aid.
8. Campus resources are there to help
Every campus has resources you can tap into for help. The writing center, for example, is a great resource for assistance with college-level writing projects. The counseling center gives you a place where you can discuss things with a counselor in a safe, confidential environment. The health center can help with medical issues, as well as issues such as exercise and diet. The information technology — or IT department — can help you with computer and internet challenges. And the library is a wonderland of resources for research of all types — not to mention quiet study areas and designated spaces for group projects. Some institutions also have a spiritual life office where you can connect with others who share your faith and find a spiritual home on campus.
Campus resources are designed to make things easier for you at college — but they don’t help if you don’t take advantage of them. Just remember, every student needs a little help now and then. Taking advantage of campus resources doesn’t mean you’re failing, it means you know how to get the help you need so you can succeed. Because of coronavirus, you may need to make an appointment for one-on-one help (rather than just showing up) and office hours may be more limited, but in one form or another, the resources are there when you need them.
9. Time is on your side — if you’re organized
Even with coronavirus restrictions in place, you’re still going to want to socialize and find down time when academics take a momentary back seat. Even the most organized student can use a little help. Fortunately there are dozens of time-management apps and tools you can use to stay on track. Scheduling papers, exams, projects and other important dates on the calendar and setting milestone markers can help you keep up — and show you when you have time to unwind.
10. Be prepared to go online
The unfortunate reality is that if COVID-19 spikes on or near campus, your institution may decide to take courses online. Knowing that may be the case, it’s more important than ever to get to know your professors, research campus resources and connect early with classmates so you can move your campus experience seamlessly (or as seamlessly as possible) online should it become a necessity. Whether on-campus or online, the goal is the same: successfully graduating with a degree you can put to work.
Focused on supporting students this fall?
The Focus Wheel is an assessment tool that helps you understand your students holistically in eight key areas — like academics, finances and managing commitments — areas that impact their success.The Focus Wheel