“Home is not college”: University students face an uncertain summer as COVID-19 cancels plans

by Kate Flanagan on May 29, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought communities together, but it has also torn others apart: Employees are no longer at work, children are no longer in school, and college students are no longer surrounded by the clubs, classes, and residential life they have grown to be a part of. For these college students, this pandemic means more than the loss of community. In many cases, it also takes away formative summer experiences, internships, and opportunities as companies struggle to support even their full-time employees.

Menlo-Atherton graduates Julia Chang, Brown ‘21 (pictured far left, and Aarthi Popat, Stanford ‘21 (middle), planned on using this summer to conduct research for their senior theses. Fellow M-A graduate and UC Berkeley ‘21 Libby Kirk had secured an internship for the summer. Back home in Menlo Park for the rest of the school year and the summer, they — along with many other college students — have had to forge new paths amidst the pandemic.

“The summer after Junior year is the typical time to boost your resume, and prepare you for post-graduation plans,” Libby explains via email.

Some of these internships have become remote. But many others, like Libby’s, were cancelled. Following her internship’s cancellation,Libby who is an applied math major, writes: “I plan on taking two summer computer science courses and hopefully use this time to get ahead in my major and acquire new skills that I can hopefully use in the future. It’s not exactly what I had planned for the summer, but in the end it is a productive use of my time so I’m not complaining.”

A health and human biology major, Julia had initially planned to stay on Brown’s campus and conduct research in the Cell and Molecular Biology Lab for a potential thesis.

“Instead of staying at school over the summer in my lease, I’m taking advantage of the stay-at-home order to start studying for the MCAT in preparation of applying to medical school,” she writes via email. “I’m also trying to learn new recipes and board games with my family as we stick together through these uncertain times!”

Like Julie, Aarthi, a psychology major, planned on conducting research during the summer via in-person participant recruitment by running her study in public spaces, such as museums. With public spaces closed, Popat has changed her research to a remote format through Zoom.

“I’ve begun to transition my study to an online format and am currently working out how to recruit participants remotely! I’m really thankful and relieved that I’ll still be able to begin my thesis work from a distance,” she writes.

Beyond adapting summer plans in response to the pandemic, college students are missing out on the social opportunities and intellectual stimulation available on campus. While at Brown, Chang describes being surrounded by “creative minds” and “driven and lively students,” but with lectures now held through Zoom, opportunities to collaborate with these fellow students are scarce.

“Home is not college,” Libby writes. “No matter if all classes are on Zoom and everything is accessible from the comfort of your own bed, being around classmates who have the same amount of stress and things going on around you is vital in college. I am motivated by my peers, and going to a library or physically sitting in a class, I am able to use that motivation. Whereas at home, you are not surrounded by the constant reminder that things need to get done.”

Along with the lack of support and community in a remote atmosphere, Aarthi points toward the uncertainty and isolation as some of the hardest parts. “Despite this, though,” she writes, “I’m feeling really lucky to be safe and healthy with my family.”

Photo of left to right: Julia Chang, Aarthi Popat and Libby Kirk courtesy of Julia Chang

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