Returning to university or college after lockdown

A young person meditates with candles next to tem and a pile of books on the other side.

What will student life be like this year?

Starting uni/college or going back for a new year is really exciting, but this year will feel very different for lots of students.

While people get used to wearing face masks and sticking to curfews, colleges and universities are deciding how to enforce coronavirus-friendly measures and some have even had to impose lockdown restrictions.

A lot has changed this year, so we spoke to students about their feelings on returning to education after months of lockdown and a bit of a strange summer.

Feeling anxious about covid at university

A week after a national lockdown was announced, 21-year-old Melanie Wanjala was told by the journalism department at City University that all first-year journalism students would automatically move into the second year without needing to complete final exams or assessments.

“A lot of people felt anxious about missing out on over half of the curriculum that was meant to take us into the second year,” Mel says. “But as I’ve struggled with university life, this decision was a relief for me. My parents are key workers so I was more worried about the pandemic than my studies.”

Online learning

Mel says it’s impossible to feel hopeful or excited for her second year while she has no idea how it will look. “Journalism is a practical course that involves face to face interactions, equipment handling and working in groups. I have no idea how this will work moving forward,” she explains. Although the department hasn’t provided the students with a specific learning plan, it’s likely that the majority of lectures will be online.

Virtual classes suit Mel. “I think I’ll perform better as I have punctuality issues and get quite anxious when doing group activities,” she tells The Mix. “But I also worry it will be isolating. It’s important to have human contact, which is something that’s not going to happen if we are learning virtually.”

Uncertainty about the future

While each university and college will offer different mixes of physical and virtual learning, every student is adapting to a new routine. Nina White is an English Language and Literature student at Cardiff University who is heading into her final year.

She’s concerned that online learning may impact her grades next year, especially as she doesn’t know what modules she will be doing or how she will be assessed for them. “If the department were more communicative a lot of students including myself would feel less anxious about starting their final year,” she suggests.

Fears of missing out

There is more to higher education than your classes, grades and assignments. These years are a chance to meet new people, try new things and have fun. How will this look when no one is on campus, and large gatherings are banned?

“I worry that we won’t be able to make the most of our final year at university, including opportunities to meet new people and participate in activities,” Nina admits. “However, what concerns me the most is how the university will prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Burn-out and anxiety

Rosa Wright, a 17-year-old philosophy, photography and drama student at Cronton College is worried about returning for her second year of A-Levels. She says her feelings of social anxiety worsened during lockdown.

“The idea of going back into a form of ‘normal’ isn’t sustainable. I’m already exhausted by the thought of it,” she says. “I’m autistic, and so routine is very important to me. The drastic change (to my college timetable) has impacted me and continues to make me anxious.”

Seeking mental health support during coronavirus

Law graduate Mandy Lander struggled to find helpful mental health services during her undergraduate degree, but while studying for her MA in Human Rights, she has been diagnosed with anxiety and given exemptions to help her manage symptoms.

Accessing face-to-face mental health services has become more tricky for some due to the pandemic, but if you are struggling there are things you can do to help you cope.

  • Contact your course leaders. They can  provide deadline extensions, be flexible with your attendance and signpost you to further support.
  • Speak to your doctor. It can help to talk things through and they may be able to help you understand the way you’re feeling.
  • Tell your friends and family what’s going on for you – you could write them a letter if saying out loud is too tough.
  • Get in touch with the team at The Mix, who are there to support you with anything that’s on your mind.

How to look after yourself

It’s normal to feel worried about returning to physical spaces where you don’t know how others will behave. Rosa says she’s concerned about friends not following social distancing, after she fell out with a friend over lockdown, only a short time after her great grandad died due to covid.

  • If friends aren’t taking measures as seriously as you are, remember that everyone is coping with this in their own way.
  • Set clear boundaries and let others know what you feel comfortable with.
  • It’s also important to recognise that you may be less productive than you were pre-covid, and that’s ok.
  • Remember that grades don’t define you and you’re so much more than your academic success.
  • Read our interview with Dr Emma Silver on how to cope with uncertainty around studying and exams.

How to cope if you’re in lockdown at uni

In some universities there has been an outbreak of coronavirus and students have been asked to self-isolate. This can feel upsetting and stressful, but there are some things you can do to help you get through it.

  • Make a list of all the things that you can control – it can be small things like what time of day you get up.
  • Get yourself moving as often as you can with an online dance session, or some yoga.
  • Try to ground yourself in the present moment with some meditation.
  • Take things a day at a time and remember that this is only temporary.
  • Read our article on coping with corona anxiety.
  • Read our article on being a university student during lockdown.

“We’re living in really upsetting times right now. Please take care of yourself,” says Rosa.

Next Steps

  • Student Minds is the UK's student mental health charity. Search their website for information, research, and to see how you could get involved.
  • Our Crisis Messenger provides free, 24/7 crisis support across the UK. If you’re aged 25 or under, you can text THEMIX to 85258
  • If you're under 25 and would like free confidential telephone counselling from The Mix to help you figure things out complete this form and we'll call you to arrange your first session.
  • Chat about this subject on our Discussion Boards.
  • Need help but confused where to go locally? Download our StepFinder iPhone app to find local support services quickly.

By Sian Bradley

Updated on 30-Sep-2020

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