January 13, 2021 / Source: The Bizz USA
By Isabelle Sitchon; Edited by Pallavi Vemuri and Haarika Kalahasti
The Class of 2021 has gone through quite a lot during their senior year of high school. Some have had their last year spent on Zoom in the comfort of their homes, while others have spent their year sitting at separated desks with masks on. Regardless, there's one thing all college-bound seniors have in common: anxiety for the coming year. Although the college experience is still months away, several rising undergraduates ask the question: “Will my first year in a university be affected by COVID?”
Recently, President Joe Biden has signed an executive order regarding the safe reopening and operation of schools across America. The order calls for the Secretary of Education, in consultation with the Secretary of Health and Human Services, to “provide evidence-based guidance institutions of higher education on safely reopening for in-person learning, which shall take into account considerations such as the institution’s setting, resources, and the population it serves.” The executive order also addresses the need to “provide technical assistance to schools and institutions of higher education so that they can ensure high-quality learning during the pandemic,” and “consult with those who have been struggling for months with the enormous challenges the COVID-19 pandemic poses for education.”
Procedures and guidelines are already being established, but what might be different for the freshman entering college? Here are a few things that may happen in the first year:
Be prepared for another Zoom semester.
While many colleges have not yet determined their plans for the 2021-2022 school year, there is a high possibility that students will have virtual learning for the year. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of NIAID, predicts that the U.S. may not return to normal until the end of 2022. Because of this, many higher institutions are likely to remain with their current operation of online classes. However, many colleges may implement a hybrid model with both in-person classes and virtual lectures. Colleges, such as the University of California Berkeley, opt to have most of their academic instruction online to ensure students’ safety at all times. Be sure to check your university’s COVID-19 page for more information on academic instruction procedures.
“Common” rooms might not be so common.
Last year, you might have been looking forward to sharing a dorm with your best friend or living alongside three roommates and sharing a communal space. This year, living at college will be completely different. At the University of California Los Angeles, there are a limited number of dorm spaces for the 2020-2021 year. Students have to demonstrate an immediate need for housing with extenuating circumstances to live in the UCLA dorms. Here’s the catch: all students are assigned their own dorm and private bathroom. However, there are still several guidelines to follow, including respecting the closure of lounges and common areas. According to CDC guidelines, it’s recommended for groups to “alter schedules to reduce mixing and close contact, such as staggering meal and activity times.” In certain universities, you might see recreational rooms with ping-pong tables and open study desks. You may even pass by an exercise room or a pool. However, CDC advises dorms to consider closing activity and exercise rooms or restrict the number of people allowed in at a time.
Mask guidelines are still in place.
With the COVID-19 pandemic still predicted to continue for another year or so, be prepared to bring the appropriate masks to you on your way to university. Thankfully, there are two current vaccines for the disease: the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. However, the vaccines will be administered in phases, with healthcare workers being top priority. Many local pharmacies are receiving vaccines to administer to the public. Pharmacies such as CVS are expected to distribute vaccines in the spring or summer on an appointment basis. While these vaccines protect people from the Coronavirus, it is unclear as to how it may spread. As students begin the first year of college, many may have received the vaccine, while others may be waiting to receive one. It is crucial to abide by your university’s COVID-19 guidelines, including crucial mask requirements.
Having lunch with your friends will be a little different.
In the dorm rooms, the CDC guidelines recommend those living in dorms to “restrict the number of people allowed in the kitchen and dining room at one time so that everyone can stay at least 6 feet (2 meters) apart from one another.” It’s likely that these protocols will be continued into next year as well. Virginia Tech, a school well-known for their cafeteria food, have implemented these guidelines appropriately. At the college, tables are spaced a hefty nine feet apart to ensure the six-feet-apart policy. Instead of having a self-service pay center, students will be able to pay with their Hokie passport, the ID card that all students, faculty, and staff wear at Virginia Tech. The University of Massachusetts-Amherst also follows similar procedures, implementing new dining methods such as ordering food via an app specifically for those in quarantine/isolation. However, these guidelines haven’t stopped UMass from being voted #1 best campus food by the Princeton Review.
For the Class of 2021, freshman year will be a little different, look a little different, and feel a little different. However, we wish you a strong last few months in high school and a wonderful graduation!