Effect of COVID-19 on College Students

Aloha!!!

It’s me, Katy again… Since my last post, I completed my first quarter of freshman year. I have some free time this winter break to update my blog, so here we are…

When most kids think of college, they think mostly of freedom and friends. Most college students live away from their parents and near all their friends, which results in minimal parent involvement in the overall experience and much easier access to the social aspects of college life. There is also significantly more academic freedom; there are relatively few required courses, and many of the required courses have different options.

I was looking forward to freedom and making many new friends. So when I got my acceptance letter to my dream school (Caltech) in early March, I was overjoyed. I assumed that in around seven months I would have the chance to prove my independence and meet many lovely intelligent and hilarious new people and I was beyond excited!! I love my parents and I know they always have my best interests at heart, but I was ready to prove that I could survive and thrive on my own and maybe be a little rebellious 😉. Eating dessert every day doesn’t sound like a bad idea!

Not long after I got that coveted acceptance letter, California (where I live) issued a stay at home order to the rapid spread of COVID-19. I’ve already written a post here that summarizes the remainder of my high school journey, so I’d like to review the events after that.

Summer was very long (thanks quarter system!), beginning at the end of May and ending at the end of September. I spent the time reviewing certain topics I needed to brush up on. Originally, I had planned on traveling, hanging out with friends, and winning giant stuffed animals but staying home and relaxing was fun too. Over the summer, I had lots of hope but very little confidence that we would have in person classes in the fall. I was hardly surprised when Caltech, located in LA county which has an insanely high number of COVID cases, announced that classes would be completely online for the fall term.

Overall, Caltech and my family both tried their hardest to make the experience enjoyable and similar to what I would experience in college. My parents renovated and cleaned out the shed in my backyard and helped turn it into a dorm room. Caltech ensured that all the fun events, such as orientation, celebratory donuts, and soon rotation are available online. There are many resources available online as well that mimic those we would have on campus, such as the online library and discord servers. The discord servers are especially helpful for collaboration and are my main source of social interaction.

Despite everything, it was difficult to remain in a good mental state. The monotony and lack of face to face interactions made life rather dull and I found myself slowly losing my sanity. I ended up running twice a day just so I could at least see other living breathing human beings (I wore a gaiter though so it was safe despite people not social distancing). At least I had school to look forward to, where I felt very challenged in all of my classes. I learned how to approach problems differently especially in physics and math, and overall I definitely reached a deeper level of understanding in every class.

But enough about me. I’ve shared my experience being a college student during quarantine, and I was interested in seeing if struggling mentally is a widespread phenomenon across college students. So I did some research.

As it turns out, researchers at the University of Ljubljana’s COVID-19 Social Science Lab studied how COVID-19 affected higher education students across the globe while researchers at Texas A&M University studied how COVID-19 affected college students in the United States. Their findings were unsurprising to me and aligned with my experience.

The Texas A&M researchers surveyed 195 US college students about stress; the questions covered stress levels, coping with stress, use of mental health counseling, and significant stressors and their impacts on everyday living. 

  • The results state that 71% of the students reported that their stress and anxiety levels increased, 20% reported that they remained the same, and 9% reported that they decreased. I would fall in the first category, and not simply because college is more stressful than high school. My particular college stresses the importance of collaboration, and, while discord was very helpful for this, nothing could replace in person collaboration in a designated work environment. 
  • Only 10% of the students in the first category used mental health counseling, and as a whole found it difficult to access counseling during the pandemic. I don’t believe I was ever at the point where I needed counseling because I had a large support network, but I can see how it can be too much of a hassle for students who might need it. 
  • 97% of students believed that other students were more stressed during the pandemic. This makes sense and I’ve noticed that everyone seems to be more empathetic during this time because they perceive that others are struggling.
  • Overall, the majority indicated negative impacts on each of various aspects of mundane life. This again makes sense because the pandemic greatly limits the number of things we can do safely.

As I was trying to read the discussion, I couldn’t help but notice that there were a lot of psychology terms I was unfamiliar with. I never took a psychology class in high school because I chose to take other electives instead, which is a shame although I don’t regret the decision. I’ve made a note to come back and read the discussion after I take a psychology class so I can understand more of what it’s saying. I found the fact that college students are particularly prone to higher levels of stress interesting because I assumed that working adults would be under a lot more stress because they have a lot more to focus on that ultimately is of greater importance. Perhaps the anticipation of entering the job market causes more stress than being in the job market itself for some.

The COVID-19 Social Lab studied a global sample– 30383 students from 62 countries– regarding how the early stages of the pandemic affected them. 

  • They were apparently content with support from their professors and their universities’ public relations. This aligns with my views: Caltech professors and the overall institution did an amazing job adjusting to the online learning environment and providing resources to help us adjust. 
  • Interestingly, the article claims that “deficient computer skills and the perception of a higher workload prevented them from perceiving their own improved performance in the new teaching environment.” I wonder if the “perception of a higher workload” is due to having to do the work alone rather than with friends, or whether it’s due to unfavorable work environments at home. Or perhaps doing work online is simply more of a hassle due to technology. I always did my homework on my school-issued iPad throughout high school because it was much more efficient than doing homework on paper. I’m guessing that maybe as students adjust to technology, they will begin to perceive their workload as less.
  • Students viewed the pandemic as detrimental to their careers. Overall, this makes sense. Although the economy will likely improve in the near future, this economy is not ideal for entering the job market. Further, many internships and other opportunities to acquire experience in one’s chosen career are canceled or openings are a lot more limited. 
  • Like the previous article, students in this study fell victim to anxiety, stress, frustration, and boredom.
  • Unsurprisingly, the article stated that the pandemic caused students to wash their hands and wear face masks more frequently but leave the house and have physical contact less often.
  • Overall, satisfaction with hospitals and universities was higher than satisfaction with governments and banks. I know that in America, people tend to be very grateful towards hospitals and universities for all their hard work while dissatisfaction with the government was very high and affected the recent elections.
  • The researchers were also able to compare the different demographics: “students with certain socio-demographic characteristics (male, part-time, first-level, applied sciences, a lower living standard, from Africa or Asia) were significantly less satisfied with their academic work/life during the crisis, whereas female, full-time, first-level students and students faced with financial problems were generally affected more by the pandemic in terms of their emotional life and personal circumstances.” I find this interesting and understandable, although I haven’t been able to notice this phenomenon myself due to the narrow demographic I associate myself with.

I find it fascinating to learn that people worldwide are coping both similarly and differently with the global pandemic. It’s almost reassuring– this is a universal problem and thus everyone has incentive to cooperate to slow and stop COVID-19.


Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7473764/

E huakaʻi me ka palekana…

Aloha,

Katy

P. S. So last blog post I introduced you to a new friend I met in the yard. Since then I have made quite a few more friends in the yard and Wap has become a lot more friendly… I have her eating out of my hand…

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