More and more colleges plan to reopen this fall, but students must maintain realistic expectations as they prepare to return to campus.

Setting Realistic Expectations for the Fall 2021 Term


  • With optimistic health statistics, many colleges are announcing plans to reopen.
  • Setting realistic expectations can help students prepare for their return to campus.
  • Stay current with your school's communications as plans and guidelines continue to evolve.
  • Colleges may keep some pandemic modifications, like online classes and telehealth options.

Prompted by climbing vaccination rates, falling COVID-19 infection rates, and new vaccination requirements, many schools are making optimistic announcements for the fall 2021 semester. If you're planning to head to campus this fall, you might be curious about what you can expect.

How will it feel to return to college? This guide offers steps you can take now and throughout the summer to help you set realistic expectations for your back-to-school experience.

Embrace a Changed Campus Experience

Although more schools intend to reopen this fall, inviting students back doesn't mean campuses will fully reopen. Learners can attend some classes and club meetings, but larger events like concerts and sports games may still be suspended or scheduled with attendance limits.

Even when campuses fully reopen, it's unlikely the college experience will be exactly as it was before the pandemic. You might come across features like more online and hybrid classes, the continuation of online academic advising and telehealth appointments, or regularly scheduled "wellness days" that originated with campus closures.

Even when campuses fully reopen, it’s unlikely the college experience will be exactly as it was before the pandemic.

In an op-ed for the Claremont Colleges' student newspaper, student Ryan Lillestrand notes that "the campus itself has changed while we've been gone. … As we prepare to return in the coming months, hopefulness and positivity will be our greatest allies, but so will a measure of realism."

Some schools, like the Claremont Colleges, have used campus closures to enact big changes, such as building and renovating facilities. Lillestrand also reminds learners that the students they'll see on campus won't be the same, as new enrollments and graduations have continued throughout the closures.

Stay Connected With Your College

Many schools are announcing a return to campus this fall but are taking time to finalize the details of how this will look. The Harvard Crimson, for example, recently reported that while Harvard University will reopen, students should keep an eye out for additional announcements regarding caveats like residential housing density.

Tons of colleges are also still in the process of making decisions regarding COVID-19 vaccination requirements.

Make sure you stay connected to your school's communication channels at this time, including those from your major's academic department. Avoid ignoring your school email, and sign up for any school newsletters and emergency notification systems. If you're active on social media, you can follow school-sponsored accounts for the latest updates.

Additionally, try to stay in touch with your college friends as much as you can — you're all in this together. Consider creating group texts or chats that allow you to quickly share what you know about the fall term. These tools can also be a way to share support and encouragement as you prepare for a new school year.

Set Yourself Up for Success

Be ready to hit the ground running when you return to campus by using the time you have now to review and revise your academic plan, especially if you took a break during the past year.

Set up appointments with your academic advisor and career center to ensure you're on track to graduate. Many of these offices are currently open with virtual guidance and will stay open throughout the summer.

A recent BestColleges survey found that while most college students expressed concern about pandemic-related mental health effects, many also felt hopeful for the future.

A recent BestColleges survey found that while most college students expressed concern about pandemic-related mental health effects, many also felt hopeful for the future. Nearly all students surveyed (98%) reported taking time to engage in self-care activities, such as hobbies and exercise.

If you've developed any positive habits in the past year, think about how you can maintain those once you get to campus.

Be Adaptable and Flexible

Many announcements about campus reopenings were made in early spring, well in advance of the May 1 college decision deadline, and are therefore subject to change. For now, try to focus on flexibility and adaptability as you prepare for an on-campus fall term, particularly if you're an upcoming first-year student.

Adjusting to remote and online learning took time for all students. Readjusting to campus life will take time, too, so be patient. In addition, be gracious with yourself, your friends, your professors, and university staff.

School guidelines will continue to evolve as the circumstances around COVID-19 change. Know that everyone is excited to return to "normal," or to at least begin what might be a post-pandemic "new normal." Whatever your experience, be ready to explore new opportunities that will help move you closer to your educational and career goals.

Feature Image: Andy Sacks / The Image Bank / Getty Images