The View From Campus: What’s Life Like on a U.S. College Campus During a Pandemic?

If you are wondering what international students currently in the United States have been experiencing over the past nine months while studying on college campuses, you are not alone. Life for most of the world has changed as a result of the global Covid-19 pandemic in more ways than we would have ever imagined. On campus in the United States, whether at a small rural college, a suburban mid-size institution, or a big city university, life is dramatically different for all students. So, what’s the story?

How Campuses Re-Opened

While no one was really prepared for what happened in March last year when most all U.S. colleges’ and universities’ courses went online, as the new academic year began in August and September, many institutions thought long and hard about what the “new normal” would be. While there was not one way that every college approached how to respond to the pandemic’s impact on the day-to-day lives of students, faculty, administrators, and visitors to campus, each one made decisions that were best for their communities. Some university systems like the California State University’s 23 campuses made the decision early on to be fully online for the fall 2020 semester, others like Purdue University in Indiana decided to have a largely in-person academic year.

From regular testing, health screening for temperatures upon entry of buildings/classrooms, quarantine procedures, to mandatory mask and social distancing policies, U.S. colleges introduced a wide range of health and safety measures to protect their campuses. For new students arriving for the first time, most all universities held virtual orientation sessions to limit unnecessary exposure. In the end, there were successes and issues colleges faced, particularly for international students. A recent Twitter chat around this theme addressed what the major challenges were for overseas students on college campuses.

General satisfaction

No one could realistically expect a perfect response from colleges to the pandemic as there simply have been so unexpected variables that have impacted life on campus. From recent national polling of U.S. college students, the general sense was of satisfaction with the education received. There were difference in levels of satisfaction depending on how classes were taught on campus. For those who had all in-person education this fall 85% rated their experiences as “excellent” or “very good” while for students who classes were completely online 71% indicated similar feelings.

Care for International Students

There are many ways U.S. colleges have met the various needs of international students during the pandemic. Calvin University in Michigan realized early on that a large group of new international students would not be able to make it to campus to begin studies. As a result, 65 students from overseas were offered a virtual semester put together by faculty and staff to provide a customized academic and personal experience. 

More than anything else, we all prefer getting more regular communication than too few messages in times of uncertainty. Purdue, as well as other institutions, dedicated pages on their website specifically for resources for international students on Counseling Center services available to help students cope with the very different environment they faced on campus. Other colleges like the University of Louisville saw its international student and scholars services staff feel even more responsible to ensure every international student was attended to at various points during the academic term.

Each college has its own way of responding to the concerns of students. So, as you explore your different options for U.S. colleges and universities, it is critical to hear from currently enrolled students like this article from Penn State University, especially international students like you, to learn how campus life might be for you. Whether that be live chats held by current students, blog articles they write, or emails they send, you need to ask colleges you are considering for ways to hear from current students before you make a final decision.

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