Making the Most of a Modified College Social Life During a Pandemic

A quote from a parent on CBS’s Sunday Morning on August 9, 2020 really touched home to what I’ve been hearing from other parents and what I have been thinking as well… “I’m more concerned about her not having her college experience with her friends than I am anything.”

No one knows exactly what campus life will be like…  and it may even change throughout the year so students need to be prepared to make the best of it and come with an attitude of flexibility and adventure. As a parent of a college age student, I want to know how they connect with fellow students and get involved safely. Kelly Shannon (Director of Campus Recreation at University of Mary Washington) Dr. Kim Leisey (Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at UMBC) and Aisha Rivers(Director of Student Engagement at Goucher College) joined me for a panel discussion. 

Ms. Shannon suggested weeding through all the options offered by the college to find the one or two things that really drive their passion. All the options “can get overwhelming.” For this reason, “think about what are the things I am passionate about? Because if you get involved in ten things, it’s going to not feel manageable, but if you choose a couple to get started with and make connections that way” it will help students find “their people”.

Dr. Leisey suggested students to ask themselves, “how do you imagine your college experience? What is it you want to explore? And how do you want to be different than when you were in high school?” College can be a time to “shed some of the stuff from high school and do something new and different.” Once you know the answers, you can get on the college website and look to see what clubs and organizations meet those goals.

One thing students may struggle with is how to create informal connections outside classes and clubs. Ms. Rivers conceded this will be more difficult than in prior years and it is important to manage expectations that it will be the same but that it can be a meaningful experience. Using provided tools like Microsoft Teams to have game nights and other activities is a good start and one example of how to create relationships is to share contact info after structured activities with like-minded individuals. “Be thoughtful to not try to replicate everything you have in person because that is not possible, but do use the tools you have at your disposal to have organic community building.”

I recommend parents and students watch the full video together to discuss expectations and ways for students to connect. The video is just 30 minutes but the suggestions from our panelists were insightful and meaningful.


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