Connect Confessionals


Molly Povich  |  July 31, 2020

Remote learning? A hybrid option? A gap year? Living with mom and dad vs. living near campus? Three college women weigh in. 

While I waited for my university to clarify what the fall semester plans would be, I silently swore to myself that if my classes were online, I wouldn’t do them. I am skeptical that “Zoom University” can give me the quality of learning I demand from my education. As a student of the humanities, I have found classroom time to be the keystone of my education. 

The classroom is where I’ve found material brought to life through conversation. The classroom is where I clarify my understanding of and my ideas about the material. The classroom is where I practice not only speaking, but also listening; it is where other student’s ideas strengthen mine. The classroom is where the professor is given a platform to impart students with the passion and excitement they possess for their field. 

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To dive even deeper into my love of learning (classroom learning, specifically) — it is what has made existence tolerable to me. During my freshman year of college, when I was steeped in the worst depression of my life, it was my literary theory class with Professor Steven Meyer that helped me make it through. His class gave me a zeal for theory that got me excited about thinking — and in turn, about being alive. I had a new reason to live in a world where I could find few. 

All that to say that I am doubtful that online learning can reproduce this same academic magic. For me, my education has always been about learning, and I am aware that makes me privileged in so many ways. I study the most “unemployable” majors: English literature (with a concentration in creative writing) and philosophy. But millions of other young adults my age are focused on finishing college as soon as possible so they can enter the workforce and make money. If online learning allows them to achieve their goal, then it absolutely makes sense to enroll. 

… Only now the time has come for me to decide if I will, too. Initially, my university insisted that they would offer as much in-person learning as possible, but now they’ve just announced a hybrid plan. A few classes will be taught completely in-person, some will be taught with a combination of online and in-person classes, and most are solely remote. 

Unfortunately, all of the courses I need will be remote. However, three of them are with professors I’ve had before with whom I have good working relationships. I’m acquainted with their talent as educators, and their extreme care for the quality of education they provide. Thus, I have a higher degree of faith that they’ll be able to navigate online teaching with grace, and replicate that academic magic through a screen. Plus, because I’ve had them before, I am already comfortable communicating with them. (If there’s one thing online learning will require, it’s good communication!) 

With the other classes I need, however, I don’t know the professors. In my mind, those classes now seem like a bit of a gamble, and I’ve decided that I’m not interested in gambling this year. At this point, as a senior with few credits left to take, I want to make the most of my remaining courses. So I’d rather only enroll in classes that I’m confident will offer the kind of academic experience I love most. Yes, this leaves me taking fewer classes than usual, but it’s just enough credits to be considered a full-time student.

The time I put into making my educational decision for the fall (along with the months I spent waiting to find out what my university was even doing) consumed much of my summer, as it did for so many other women in college. Once I had my plan sorted, I decided to put on my journalist’s hat and check in with others to see what their educational plans were shaping up to be. Here’s what they had to say. 

Grace, 21, Barnard College, anthropology major 

I’m taking the fall semester off of school. 

I transferred schools because I was looking for a better educational and personal experience, but in doing so, I upped the cost of my education significantly. I wanted to get my money and my effort’s worth in the new place I was living, and in the new people I would meet. But because I had to leave school in March, I haven’t even had a full year to do that. 

I don’t have very strong personal connections with professors, nor have I really had a chance to involve myself in the culture of my university, meet all the people I would like to meet, and truly experience the college experience.  It doesn’t seem worthwhile for me to have gone through all the effort of transferring and upping my tuition in order to miss out on those experiences, even partially, and only do 1.5 semesters at my new school. 

As a transfer student, most of my friends are younger than me, and I don’t feel any particular affiliation with my class year. This makes it easier to remove myself from graduating strictly in 4 years, which I think can be a pressure for people who have gone to the same school or haven’t taken time off before. 

I’m lucky to have found a method of employment that will offer me housing and help me continue to save money for when I do return to school. The job I’m working on is related to my post-college career interests and I think it will prepare me well for the kind of work I want to do after school. I’m pretty excited about what I can learn from a work experience in general, too.

Elissa, 20, University of Michigan, biomedical engineering major

A month ago, my school announced they would do a hybrid plan with as much in-person learning as possible. Then they decided to give the professors the choice of how they wanted to hold their classes — based on what is conducive to teaching their subject matter, and based on their personal comfort level with being in the classroom in a COVID-era. 

I was hopeful I’d get some in-person learning, but it turns out all of my classes are online. I’ve decided to try it out because a lot of people are, and this may be what the rest of my college career looks like anyway, whether I like it or not. 

I am going back to live off-campus; I feel I will do online education better while surrounded by people doing the same thing. In March, when everything changed and I had to finish my semester online, I felt I wasn’t as productive in my own home. So even though things will be different when I go back to campus in the fall, I find that it’s easier for me to study and learn when I’m surrounded by my peers. Also, potentially having the opportunity to go to office hours and study groups with other students makes it more appealing to me in terms of the learning environment. 

When we got sent home in March, everything switched abruptly from total in-person to total online learning. I think across the board, a lot of professors struggled with how to manage online education, because one, a lot of them might not be as tech savvy as their students and two, it was something they’d never done before.

It was hard to adjust to. I like being in class. I like raising my hand and asking questions. Doing that behind the screen wasn’t the same. So I reached out to the Dean of Engineering, because I was worried I would feel the same in the fall, and I care about getting the corresponding quality of education for the money I am paying. Especially with my major, so much of what we learn is hands-on.

But regardless of how online classes go, I want to be there (near campus) if I can be. In general, you only get four years of college, so you want to enjoy your time away. 


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