How to Enrich Your College Experience Beyond Academics During COVID

By Alyssa Laffitte on August 22, 2020

Due to the current COVID-19 health restrictions, college is going to look very different this upcoming school year. Many universities are holding all classes online, while others are doing a hybrid system where the majority of the class is online with infrequent in-person meetings. Universities are doing what they can to keep academics going. However, college is more than just academics. Extracurricular activities are a big part of the college experience that will also look different this year. In this article, we’ll discuss how to enrich your college experience beyond academics during COVID.

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Take advantage of virtual extracurricular activities

Extracurricular activities are the perfect way to enrich your college experience beyond academics. However, extracurricular activities might look different this year due to COVID-19. Because colleges can’t host extracurricular activities in person, consider seeking out virtual extracurricular activities. In other words, you can still participate in an activity, but expect to attend online meetings rather than traditional, in-person ones. This way, you can still be a part of a group, you will be using your time productively, and you will have something else to add to your resume.

Additionally, even though the meetings will be virtual, you are still likely to meet many like-minded people who share your interests. Some examples of extracurricular activities than can easily move to online meetings could be student government, school newspaper, a book club, foreign language clubs, and academic clubs (clubs that focus on a particular subject, such as chemistry or art). Clubs like these can still run and host meetings over video chat. Participating in virtual extracurricular activities will help you make the most of your college experience, even if you won’t be meeting in person.

Seek out virtual research opportunities

Despite social distancing and classes being online, it’s likely you can still enrich your college experience by completing a virtual research experience. Research is an important skill to learn in college, so even a virtual research experience will be valuable. Although you will not go into a lab or a library, you will still learn about research methods, collecting data, statistical analysis, and drawing conclusions from your data. Completing a research experience will show a future employer that you have these skills, and they will be impressed. To secure a virtual research experience, visit your university department’s website, and look at the research each faculty member is conducting.

Once you find a research topic that is interesting to you, email the faculty member and politely ask if they can accommodate you for a virtual research opportunity. (Yet another benefit of conducting research is building a relationship with the faculty member who will supervise your project since they can help you out in the future. For example, they can write you a letter of recommendation when it’s time for you to look for a job, or they can introduce you to someone they know that can help you find a job.) It would be a good idea to email more than one faculty member (but no more than five) since you might not receive a response from all of them. Clearly, a research opportunity, even a virtual one, is the perfect way to enrich your college experience beyond academics.

See friends at a safe distance

Making friends is a big part of the college experience. Unfortunately, spending time with friends won’t be the same this school year, but that doesn’t mean you have to go an entire semester without seeing your friends. You will simply need to modify the way you spend time together. Instead of late-night hangouts at each other’s dorms, it might look more like a socially distant picnic at a park (and wearing masks when you are not actively eating).

Social time might look more like hanging out with only one or two other people, rather than a whole crowd at a party. You simply need to spend time with friends the smart way. You don’t want to neglect your friends, but at the same time, you don’t want to be careless and expose yourself to any sickness. There is a fine balance between the two, and if you can strike that balance, it will be enriching to your college experience, even in the times of social distancing. Yes, spending time with friends is integral to the college experience, as long as you do it safely this year, adhering to the current health guidelines.

Infographic by Alyssa Laffitte

Stay connected with others

Continuing off the previous point, don’t let social distancing cause you to become isolated from your friends. Staying connected with others, whether it is your friends from college, friends from home, or even your family, is so important for your mental health and well-being. College is already a generally tough time on students’ mental health, but the pandemic adds a whole new level of stress to the college experience. These stressful experiences are made a little less stressful when you are not isolated, when you share the experiences with someone else. Even if you live alone, make the effort to stay connected with other people to let them know how you are doing.

“Keeping connected” could be through socially distant picnics as I mentioned before, but it could also be through frequent FaceTime calls and texts. This will allow you and your friends to support each other through these difficult times. Again, spending time with friends is an important part of the college experience outside of academics. You don’t need to give social time up, even in the era of social distancing. On the contrary, you should aim to stay connected with others, as long as you do it safely.

Keep a routine

During a normal college semester, you will likely have a schedule and a routine. For example, you will have the same class on the same day and time every week. You will wake up at the same time every day, and go to bed at the same time every night. This routine helps keep you stable throughout the semester. Considering the current health situation, it is more important than ever to keep that stability throughout this school year.

One way to do that is to keep that routine even if all your classes are online. Doing the same thing at the same time every day, even virtually, will give you a sense of routine and security. For example, even if your class’s lectures are pre-recorded and you can watch them at any time, watch them at the same time every day. Do your homework at the same time every day. Participate in your extracurricular activities at the same time every week. This will help your brain focus at these times every day and every week. In other words, another way to enrich your college experience is to keep a routine, the same way you would during any other semester.

Learn a new skill at home

This era of staying at home is the perfect time to learn a new skill. More particularly, a skill that you can exercise outside the classroom. A new skill will enrich your college experience and will also make you a stronger candidate for jobs in the future. With all the resources we have access to today, you can learn how to do almost anything. With a simple YouTube or Google search, you will likely find a tutorial on any skill you want to learn.

You can learn skills such as coding or web design, or you could learn a more creative skill like photography, drawing, or graphic design. You could also learn to cook a new recipe or to make something for yourself. If you want to invest more time, you could even learn a new language or give yourself a goal to read a certain number of books in a short period of time. These are all valuable skills to add to your resume, and there are many types of skills to choose from. Gaining skills is a great way to enrich your college experience, and extended periods of time at home is the perfect opportunity to do it.

Pick up a new hobby

Similarly, quarantine is also the perfect time to pick up a new hobby. Pursuing a non-academic hobby is still a great way to enrich your college experience and make you a more well-rounded person. You can pick up an old hobby that you have not touched in a while, or you can pick up a totally new hobby. After all, you have lots of time!

For example, you can start a blog or an Instagram page on a topic you are interested in. (Or for something more private, you can start a journal.) You could pursue a creative hobby, like sewing (you can sew masks!). You could even ask a roommate (or family member you live with) to teach you one of their hobbies. You will get to spend time with them while learning something new. These new hobbies will enrich not only your college experience, but they will also enrich you, as a person. Hobbies (even non-academic ones that are purely for fun) are a great way to spend your time as you shelter in place in your home.

Improve your online presence

Nowadays, an online presence is critical to finding a job, so improving your online presence is a great way to enrich your college experience during this pandemic. First, it would be a good idea to go through your social media accounts and delete anything you wouldn’t want your grandma or a future employer to see. Although not foolproof, it’s a great idea to keep your personal social media profiles on the “private” setting. Having a clean social media profile is so incredibly important since people can get fired for an old Tweet or Instagram post. A social media post could also prevent you from getting a job in the first place since companies will definitely Google your name and look through your social media profiles before they hire you. Spend some time cleaning up your social media profiles; you will be grateful you did!

Additionally, you can improve your online presence by building up your LinkedIn account. Even as a college student, it’s not too early to open an account on LinkedIn. Use this time to build up your LinkedIn and make connections. You never know if these connections will help you find a job in the future. Improving your online presence is the perfect way to spend your time at home that will enrich your college experience.

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Everyone knows how important exercise is for the body, but people often neglect it. It’s all too easy to neglect exercise when you can’t go to the gym. As college students, we often get some exercise by walking around campus, but if you’re staying home, that’s not the case. However, your body still needs exercise! Exercising at home is still a great way to enrich your college experience since it will give your body the energy it needs to carry you through this stressful time.

Exercising outside of a gym doesn’t have to be boring, either. It could be anything from doing laps around a park to swimming in a pool to following along with a workout video on YouTube (or even a workout app). Bonus points if you work out with someone you are self-isolating with, since having a workout buddy will definitely encourage you to stick to your workout routine. Make it fun and make a game out of it! Not only will your body thank you for giving it the exercise it needs, but you will also feel much better after working out. Spending time working out is a great way to enrich your college experience.

Despite this upcoming school year looking different due to the current health restrictions, there are still many things you can do to enrich your college experience aside from academics. Take this time to improve yourself and connect with others. You will come out a more learned, well-rounded person if you do.

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