The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the college experience. Everything from how students move into living situations to how they attend class to how they get food – everything is being done in a new way.
As colleges begin their academic year, they have to operate with proper safety precautions while maintaining the quality of their education.
Some colleges are completely online, including the University of California, Berkeley, which Brandy Riziki, ’19, is attending this fall from her home in Sacramento.
“The hardest class to do online is chemistry,” Riziki said. “We have a lot of different websites to juggle because the class has two parts: lectures and labs. We use the Berkeley bCourses website to look at all our information for our classes, but from there we use different websites for the labs, lectures and homework.”
Luca Procida, ’19, is also taking classes online, but from a different setting. He lives in his college dorm at New York University.
“I think there are some classes at NYU that are in-person — such as big science labs — but I’m not taking any classes that require that,” Procida said.
Emma Boersma, ’20, attends Tufts University and takes a mix of online and in-person classes.
She also moved into an on-campus dorm and started her classes on Sept. 15.
“I have three virtual classes — one of which is Korean at Brandeis University — and two in-person classes,” Boersma said
Berkeley, NYU and Tufts all started the year with online orientations and events in place of the usual attractions.
“Usually freshmen have an orientation week, but it’s so bad,” Boersma said. “We have to watch a whole bunch of videos, and then they have us take quizzes on the videos, which is really annoying. I think normally during orientation we get to do fun activities and meet our classmates, which we can’t do.”
Neither Procida nor Riziki had to attend many events for orientation because they’re second-year college students.
“I wanted to spend some time with my friends beforehand and move into our apartments together, but we didn’t get to do that,” Riziki said.
The move-in process for both Procida and Boersma was different, too.
Procida moved into his dorm on Aug. 18.
“On move-in day, we had to schedule a certain time to move in, and we only had a 90-minute window to do so,” he said. “I could also only have one guest to help me. Once the 90 minutes were up, my quarantine started. I had to quarantine for two weeks in my dorm room from Aug. 18 to Sept. 1.”
Procida also had to take two COVID-19 tests — one on the day he moved in and another ten days later — both tests were negative.
Boersma, who moved into her dorm on Aug. 28, also had to schedule a day to move in as well as another day to drop off any large items for her dorm room.
“My mom was only allowed to help me for an hour,” Boersma said. “When I got to the college, I had to get tested for COVID-19 and then immediately go to my room because my two-week quarantine had started. Tufts has a policy where we have to get three negative test results. I’ve gotten all three back, so my quarantine is over.”
She was tested when she arrived on campus and twice more during her quarantine period.
Since Boersma’s quarantine is over, she is allowed to go around campus, but she must wear a mask wherever she goes. The only time a mask isn’t necessary is in her dorm room, when showering and when brushing her teeth.
Similar rules also apply to Procida at NYU.
“The major difference from my experience last year is not having in-person classes and not being allowed in administrative or class buildings,” Procida said. “We can’t walk around the dorms without masks on, and there’s only one person allowed per laundry room and trash room. Otherwise, in the city, it’s pretty normal other than constant mask enforcement. It’s manageable, but it’s a big cultural difference.”
Boersma is allowed to go out to the dining hall to get food rather than having it delivered to her door, which she only had to do during her quarantine. However, she has to reserve a time slot on an app or order the food for pick up.
“I would rate the food and my experience a five and a half out of 10,” Boersma said. “We have a traditional dining hall which gives us four choices plus dessert and drinks. There are also mini restaurants where we can get burritos, sandwiches and coffee. But, it’s hard to get food on time during the weekends because they don’t open everything up, and the wait time is upwards of two hours.”
The restaurants also only open at 11 a.m., so Boersma has to get breakfast off campus if she’s hungry. She also got a mild case of food poisoning from cold chicken pizza served at the cafeteria, she said.
Procida, on the other hand, decided not to use his university’s dining plan this semester. Since he lives far away from the main dining hall, he decided to save his money.
“My dorm room has a kitchen, so I’ve been cooking or using the money I saved from the dining plan to get food from places near my dorm,” Procida said.
The students offered mixed reviews of their educational experiences.
Procida said it’s hard for him to decide whether the quality of education is the same as last year until he gets some more experience with it.
“It might be harder to adapt to virtual learning this semester because during the summer, we all thought we would be back in person,” he said.
Riziki appreciates that most of her classes give her the choice to do her work synchronously or asynchronously.
“For some classes, like chemistry and math, the teachers pre-record the lessons,” Riziki said. “We can go at our own pace and not have to scramble to write down notes. All Berkeley students have Zoom Pro accounts, so we can schedule our own sessions without time limits.”
Meanwhile, Boersma said some aspects of her experience at Tufts haven’t been the best so far, such as using the school’s website.
“The website is so outdated, which has resulted in me missing a lot of information and messing up when signing up for virtual orientation classes,” Boersma said. “It’s frustrating because I’m at a higher institution that is well-known, and they can’t even give us a functioning website. However, I’m glad I decided to attend Tufts in person.”
— By Arikta Trivedi
Originally published in the Sept. 22 issue of the Octagon.