The following opinion piece has been sent in by Ruki Heritage, Director of Student Experience at the University of Bedfordshire. She details important factors that potential university students should be thinking about during this COVID-19 period. A useful read if you’re currently unsure whether to apply to university or not. LW
Undoubtedly COVID-19 has changed our lives, but this change can also bring many opportunities. As we all continue to study and work in these unusual circumstances, young people looking to apply to university this year may be faced with more doubts and uncertainty about the future. But this is not the time to be dithering; if anything, it is the perfect occasion to begin an inspiring, challenging and successful journey into studying at university.
However, some considerations must be made before taking the plunge and choosing a university to dedicate your next three years or longer to. Firstly, you should reflect on your own personal situation and preferred learning style. Most universities will be offering some face to face teaching this year including seminars and workshops, but some of the larger classes such as lectures are being moved online due to the ongoing pandemic.
I would encourage you to think about the course you want to study and ask the university (or universities) you are interested in about the online experience they offer for that particular course. Some have already implemented interactive video learning experiences which allow students to ask questions live, listen to sessions any time after they have taken place and contribute to discussions via dedicated chats and forums. It’s no longer reading boring PowerPoint slides!
Freshers’ week will be different to the experience of older siblings or friends you may have heard from. But this doesn’t mean you won’t get the opportunity to meet other people and make long-lasting friendships and unforgettable experiences. Universities and student unions are working hard to offer a varied programme for new students, and although many events will likely be online, this does not necessarily mean that they will be less fun. Also, with lockdown measures having already started to lift and pubs, restaurants, shops and other facilities having started to reopen, you won’t be expected to be confined to your room.
It’s important to get ready for this different kind of university experience though. Tech will take front stage and you should try and have a good laptop or PC to access online sessions as well as a good internet connection, especially if studying from home. For those who might struggle to cover the costs, many universities are offering incentives, especially when it comes to access to technology, including for example a laptop loan system, so make sure to ask your preferred choice what they can help you with. You don’t want to start your first day and find yourself unable to attend some sessions.
The New Normal…
As everywhere in the new COVID-19 world, you should expect social distancing measures to be in place at all universities. For example, university buildings may operate a single entry/exit system and there could be restriction on numbers and access to certain facilities. I know it can be tedious but it’s important to spend some time reading as much information on this as possible, from university dedicated website pages, leaflets and brochures (yes, I know there’s loads!), so you can have an idea of which buildings your classes will be in and how to navigate around campus. Also, once they start, try and leave earlier for classes in case any checks or wrong turns hold you up – you don’t want to be late or miss any lectures. If you’re in halls, be aware that there may be fewer students around. You may have two to three housemates, rather than full capacity. But this can also be a great chance to make meaningful and long-lasting friendships as smaller groups provide a chance to get to know people quicker and better.
Another consideration should be made on your study space. If you’re in halls, these have been set up with studying in mind so will have functional spaces for you to carry on your learning and research, but if you’re living elsewhere be it in a rented accommodation, shared flat, family home or your own place, you should think about where you can have access to a quiet space and area which would allow you to study efficiently. For example, think of whether you have a suitable chair and desk/table, or a separate room which you can transform into the perfect study place. Also, try not to work with a laptop on your lap, it’s terrible for posture!
The Enjoyment Factor…
One thing I say every year (regardless of lockdown) to anyone who is starting university, is to enjoy yourself and your time at university. Join groups, attend events, listen to guest lectures and immerse yourself and embrace this whole new experience. Many events will be online, so you can take part, attend and try them out in the comfort of your room. If you like them, you can continue in person when they start up face-to-face, if not, at least you haven’t had to travel far or spend any money to get to them. With any online events, ensure you are internet aware and only join university or students’ union supported events, if you’re not sure, check in advance.
Mental Health & Wellbeing…
Mental health once again hit the headlines when the COVID-19 lockdown started, but now that we are starting to get back to a more normal life, this should not be taken for granted. So, remember to look after your mental health. Too much time online can lead to fear of missing out what is happening in the ‘real’ world, affect your physical connections and your mental health wellbeing. From TikTok to Instagram and Twitter, the time seems to fly by when you are staring at your screen – be it from your mobile, laptop or PC – so try and moderate your social media use, especially when classes and social sessions may be online. You should still make sure you meet up with others face-to-face, albeit from a one metre plus rule. Once university starts, there are many support services available if you think you are struggling with your mental health or simply want someone to talk to about how you are feeling and experiencing, so don’t hold off from contacting student services at your university.
If you are still unsure on whether to apply to university this year and are thinking of deferring, you should be aware that there may not be many jobs on offer. Moreover, travel opportunities, such as taking a gap-year, may be restricted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. So make sure you research your options before it is too late to get a place at university.
Although this year’s university experience might not be like 2019, it might actually open more doors for you once the crisis is over and put you one step ahead of other people who have decided to take another route. Don’t wait to take the plunge into university life.