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A year into virtual learning, second years have spent most of their time at U.Va. online

Students voice concern over lack of in-person resources and applying into major programs amidst a pandemic

Applying into majors and sustaining a social life are among the many obstacles students have faced this year, but many feel more comfortable a year in.
Applying into majors and sustaining a social life are among the many obstacles students have faced this year, but many feel more comfortable a year in.

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Second-year students have now spent the majority of their time at the University online, necessitating regular adjustments to changing challenges while trying to navigate life as a college student in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. While applying into majors and sustaining a social life are among the many obstacles students have faced this year, many feel more comfortable with the situation when compared to their feelings last March. 

Second-year College student Elizabeth Link said that there has definitely been a period of adjustment. With the abnormal difficulties brought by COVID-19, students have relied on tips and tricks to navigate their new normal. Whether it be connecting online, getting dressed every morning or establishing a routine, everyone has been finding ways to cope. 

One of the major difficulties Link faced at the beginning of virtual classes was creating physical barriers between where she works and where she rests, but after an adjustment period, she has come to appreciate certain aspects of online learning, such as the ability to rewatch lectures presented over Zoom. 

“I don't like crossing the stress of schoolwork over with a place I sleep and rest,” Link said. “So that's definitely been a big thing and I found that I need to set those boundaries for myself, especially with online school because that can get difficult.”

For some students, past experience with online classes helped with navigating the transition. Second-year College student Samantha Paumier said that she had taken a handful of online classes during high school. In an email to The Cavalier Daily, Paumier said that these classes helped acclimate her “to the unique challenges of remote learning,” which were new territory for many others. 

Now that students have started to feel more adapted to the situation, they are beginning to reflect on the hurdles they faced at the beginning of the pandemic. Students continue to feel the reverberations of learning to navigate feelings of isolation and struggles with staying motivated. Taking care of mental health has been one of the largest obstacles during this time because of the lack of physical connection with others.

“The psychological effects of COVID-19 are very real and sometimes I feel certain anxieties and fear creep in,” Paumier said. “The effect of COVID-induced depression is like a very particular shade of darkness –– an eclipse that has blackened all parts of what should be a good life and all that is good around me.”

Struggling to maintain good mental health habits can manifest itself in both schoolwork and relationships. Link said that staying motivated in the classes she had less interest in has been most difficult for her. 

“It is so hard to bring myself to like, just sit down and watch the asynchronous lectures,” Link said. “Holding myself accountable for the classes I'm not as interested in is a bit more difficult than when everything is fine.”

Second-year College student Raghda Labban shared a similar sentiment. The switch to online classes requires a change in routine that students have acclimated to over the course of the pandemic. However, many students feel that the new learning format still does not adequately replace in-person instruction. 

“It was more of an adjustment period last year, and now it's sort of like, I'm sort of used to the online format but it doesn't mean that I like [it],” Labban said. “I don't think it's a very effective way to learn, and it's really hard I think to stay focused and feel the same kind of engagement in classes … that's something that's been pretty consistent since we started, and if anything, now, it's almost more difficult.”

The University also requires students to apply into certain majors during the spring of their second year, adding unique stress to this group of students. While some majors are declared through the completion of prerequisites and a declaration form, others — including the Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy, McIntire Commerce School and Media Studies Department — require students to complete a multi-step application processed during the spring of their second year. 

Without in-person resources, it can be easy to become overwhelmed at the process and risk missing necessary deadlines. Given the necessary cancelation of typical in-person panels and meetings with advisors for application-based majors, virtual communication from faculty has become increasingly important. 

“I had wonderful advisors helping me by sending me links and all the necessary information I needed to fill out,” Paumier, who is majoring in History and Archaeology, said. “Frankly, the U.Va. website on major applications leaves a lot to be desired, but the major advisors themselves are very helpful.” 

While many students cite the benefits of the informational meetings hosted by each application-requiring department, others still struggle to balance major applications with academic work.

“A lot of application based majors were doing panels and information sessions with current students that are in the major [which] was really helpful [to] get a sense of what they're looking for in their application and what the majors are like,” Labban said. “But I know that some people have definitely been facing a burden in terms of trying to get all their applications in on top of their schoolwork.”

Being grateful for the experiences that continue to happen and the effort that students make to show up for themselves, friends and faculty can help alleviate some of the upheaval created from living in a pandemic. 

“I am very fortunate to be able to have some in-person classes this semester — I've been able to form a bubble with my friends from first year,” Link said. “So yes, it's been disappointing that most of my college experience has been online, but it could absolutely be way worse.”

With third year looming on the horizon, second-year students are starting to look toward the second half of their time at the University with hopes for a more typical college experience — many had just begun to adjust to their lives in college and Labban remarked on how much she was looking forward to resuming close personal connections with professors and peers. 

“The one tip that has really helped me push through is the mindset that everything is temporary,” Paumier said. “This too shall pass.”

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