Recent Grads Reflect on Senior Year in the Time of COVID-19
During the COVID-19 pandemic, many schools have closed their doors, pivoted to online learning, and redesigned their curricula. All these changes present students with unique challenges. While the country continues to debate the pros and cons of school closures, learners are left navigating the day-to-day impacts of these decisions. Arguably, college seniors are some of the most affected students.
Students preparing to graduate from college next year may wonder how a shift to online learning will impact their grades. And recent graduates may worry about finding jobs during a pandemic. Students and recent grads experience a variety of unknowns, which can make it difficult to maintain their own mental health.
To understand the challenges graduating students have faced during the COVID-19 pandemic, we spoke to recent grads about the valuable lessons they learned through this adversity.
Meet the Graduates
Bachelor of Science in Advertising Management
When the pandemic hit, David was a senior at Michigan State University studying advertising management. His classes shifted from packed lecture halls to Zoom meetings. All social engagements, including his recreational soccer team, also moved online.
David's job search went completely digital, as well. Instead of networking at events that would prepare him to enter the workforce, David was left feeling robbed of his senior year and unsure of the employment opportunities he would have upon graduation. Without the option of in-person experiences, he attended virtual career fairs and interviewed with companies over Zoom.
David witnessed Zoom fatigue from recruiters, but he was still able to learn about and interview with companies in various locations, some of which he had never been to. Online career fairs increased accessibility and allowed more companies to present, including those that may not have been able to send representatives to MSU in person.
Ultimately, David's personal network introduced him to Mad Mango Marketing, a very small company founded by two young business people. This chance introduction shifted his interest from large corporations to smaller organizations and other business models. Without the upheaval of the pandemic, David may not have seen the potential of this small business.
The pandemic instigated a lot of change, but with that disruption came possibility. David seized the chance to follow a less conventional path. Always proactive in his job search, David advises others not to stress about the uncertainty ahead, but instead to look at the limitless potential of new situations.
Master of Science in Education
As an educator and a graduate student, Hite experienced the effects of the pandemic in every aspect of his life. His graduate program transitioned to online learning during the spring of 2020, and he attended a virtual graduation ceremony. Despite the virtual shift, Hite received the same level of high-quality instruction from his professors.
However, while his academics remained rigorous, Hite struggled with the lack of in-person socialization. Characterizing himself as a "social butterfly," he missed seeing his classmates and discussing job experiences with others in between classes. To combat the feeling of isolation, Hite participated in recreational Zoom activities, including a weekly trivia night with friends.
Balancing work and school as a full-time student and employee is extremely challenging. Hite never felt like he could give either 100%. Although he would not recommend anyone work full time while completing a graduate degree program, Hite did find it easier to complete his clinical assignments at his teaching job.
Between virtual graduate school and online teaching, Hite's biggest struggle was spending 12-14 hours a day staring at a computer screen. Ultimately though, Hite views eye strain as a small price to pay for the lessons he learned, including the importance of giving himself grace when things get rocky.
Overall, Hite has remained positive about his experiences. Along with focusing on the good, he has learned he is more resilient than he realized. Hite recommends surrounding yourself with uplifting people and learning to lean on each other when life gets challenging.
Bachelor of Science in Engineering
As a recent graduate of Walla Walla University, David is finding that being a student and being a person in the "real world" are not that different. In both capacities, David has set high personal and professional goals for himself.
David admits that setting realistic, actionable steps for himself was crucial to accomplishing his large goals and finishing his senior year during a pandemic. The COVID-19 pandemic changed how David accessed his classes and forced him to consider alternative paths to success.
When school moved online, David lost access to welding shops and 3D printers — he only regained some access to labs in his final quarter of college. He went from hands-on training to remote learning. Although this was initially discouraging, David discovered the benefits of virtual platforms and was able to improve and build upon his digital skills.
While going to school full time during a pandemic, David continued to attend his classes while working 30-35 hours a week. He also became a mentor to first-year students and sophomores seeking advice in these unprecedented times.
Since graduating, David has continued to expand and refine his portfolio. This diversification allows him to keep an open mind, strengthening his belief that you cannot succeed at something until you fail.
Master of Science in Plant Science
Like many others, Karlene has not attended an in-person class since the pandemic began in March 2020. Although the shift to online learning didn't impact Karlene as much as others, remote classes did affect her hands-on labs.
While most of the facilities were closed, she seized the opportunity to spend time writing her thesis. Although many students struggled to turn in their theses on time, Karlene made the most of the situation.
With facilities unavailable, Karlene became more familiar with aspects of academic research that are sometimes neglected, including computer skills and statistics. She plans on continuing to use and develop these skills as she pursues her doctoral degree and an eventual career in research.
In addition to finishing her courses and thesis, Karlene was able to continue working as a graduate research assistant. She primarily felt the limitations imposed by the pandemic when it came time to present her thesis.
Karlene lost the opportunity for in-person networking when live events were canceled. She couldn't attend conferences where she might have presented her thesis and networked with other researchers. Karlene is hopeful that she will make more connections in her field as she pursues a Ph.D.
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