As a therapist I work with a lot of college students. Some come for depression, others for anxiety. Many report feelings of loneliness. Almost all share that they feel a bit lost about who they are and what they actually want to do. I really enjoy working with my college students. Recently, I have noticed a new theme with them; a strong desire to return to school and the fear that it isn’t likely to happen.
In early March I really started to become concerned about the COVID-19 virus. I remember thinking that it was only a matter of time before schools would start to close. One of my Rutgers students contacted me one day and said that Rutgers was closing for several weeks following spring break. Immediately I thought, “Right now the school is only saying they are closing for several weeks but once they stop they aren’t going back.” Sure enough, after several weeks Rutgers announced that the campuses would remain closed for the rest of the semester.
Most of my students were disappointed. Several of them are paying their way through school. The majority of my students value in-person learning. They kept their chins up and soldiered through the rest of the semester. They were propelled by the thought “Well this sucks but we will back on campus in the fall.” The issue now is that that may not be likely.
California State University System Announces None of its Campuses Will Fully Reopen in the Fall
I fear that we are going to see a domino effect. Throughout the pandemic California has been at the forefront of taking action steps to fight back. California was the first state to shelter-in-place.
Like California, New Jersey and New York have been especially hit hard by the pandemic. Both states have mirrored many of the steps that California has taken. In just the past few days California has announced that fall 2020 classes will only be offered online. Additionally, they advised that none of the campuses will fully re-open in the fall.
With California closing schools for the fall 2020 semester, it seems like it is only a matter of time before New York and New Jersey follow suit. While I don’t anticipate big schools like Rutgers announcing campuses will remain closed for the fall semester anytime soon, I think they eventually will.
Rutgers has already started to take steps in that direction. Several of my students have reported to me that the only classes offered for next semester so far are all online courses. It seems like the writing is on the wall.
What do I do if campuses are closed in the fall?
This is one of the main questions I have been getting from students recently. The first thing that I remind them of is that the fall semester is still months away. The current environment is very fluid and ever shifting. There is no way to know what things will look like in September right now.
For all of the concerned students I work with we perform a cost-benefit analysis. Is the cost (time and money) worth the benefit of online courses (learning and staying on track with graduation)? We also look at their motives and goals surrounding school.
If their goals are to graduate to get the “piece of paper” which shows that they checked that box, then they might elect to take online courses.
Alternatively, if their goal is to learn and they feel they don’t get the same education from online classes, then we look at taking a semester off. Several students have shared with me that once courses switched to online numerous professors “checked out.” They stopped hosting lectures and students just needed to respond to weekly posts. All learning came to a stop for those who learn best within an interactive or listening approach.
What do I do if I decide to take a semester off?
The decision to take a semester off shouldn’t be taken lightly. If you just spend that time playing video games, watching television, or on social media, you made a poor decision. Alternatively, if you spend that time working on yourself, it is time well spent. Below are some ways you can focus on your development.
Read…. A lot
I have multiple degrees. Between undergrad and grad school I took over 70 courses. I have something like 220 credits. Yet in all honesty I feel that most of what I have learned has come from reading books. I have no set process for picking books to read. The only prerequisite is that the topic sounds interesting. At different points books clarified for me the type of work I wanted to do and who I wanted to be.
If you decide to take the semester off read. Read a lot. Read about whatever interests you. You might discover careers you never thought of. You might realize that careers you thought you would like you actually don’t. Books represent an opportunity to get insight into different career paths. Countless times I have had clients come in in their mid-20s hating their jobs but too scared to start over. I have written about that extensively before. You can access that article here.
Engage in Self-Reflection
We live in a hyper-consumption society today. The messages we receive is to pursue more. More money. More toys. More success. Yet every day I encounter people who achieved “more”. They have everything they set out to get only to then realize it doesn’t mean anything to them.
Most young adults are in pursuit of the golden ring. They reason with themselves saying “Well once I get enough then I can actually think about all that other stuff.” This is completely backwards. College students are at a unique age. They are in the formative years where they still have curiosity and haven’t been tainted by the pursuit of money.
A semester off is a great time to really hone in on what’s important to you and what you want out of life. Get in touch with what’s in your heart. Numerous studies clearly show that money does not correlate to more happiness beyond a certain level. It turns out that that level is much lower than most realize.
One of my favorite ways to engage in self-reflection is journaling. Anytime I journal the first half is usually just a thought dump, a mental de-cluttering process. The next quarter is focused on making sense of what’s going on in my head and in my life. The final section, and the really important one, is focused on how I want to move forward and what is important to me.
Get Professional Help
Just because you aren’t in crisis doesn’t mean that you couldn’t benefit from help. A number of my clients started seeing me when they were actually in a stable place. They figured that since there weren’t any fires in their lives to be put out that they could jump right into some deep work.
Use this time to invest in yourself. Don’t be afraid to get some therapy and dig really deep into your life. Everyone has issues that could use some work. Everyone has pain in their past and worry about their future. Therapy can help you really clarify what is important to you in your heart. Armed with that knowledge when life returns to normal you can move forward with intent and purpose. Reach out to us here to chat. We are happy to talk with you.