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Being a college student is an exciting and rewarding experience unlike any other. This year, we’ve all learned the hard way never to take it for granted. 

From the moment I entered State College to move into my new apartment this year, I knew things were going to be very different. While I did love being at home and spending time with family, I was itching to return to my independent college life after almost six months. As college students, we’re so used to having the freedom to make our own decisions. With all the restrictions placed on both school and social life, trying to have the ‘normal’ college experience this year is nearly impossible . 

I’ve been back in town for almost two weeks now and class is in session, but it honestly doesn’t feel like I’m ‘back to school.’ 

Things that were once simple like hanging out with my friends and even physically attending class have become more of a luxury at this point. I never thought that I would actually want to go to in-person classes, but you never really know how much you’ll miss something until it’s gone.

I learn just as well online as I would in person, so luckily the change in class delivery has not been too much of a challenge for me, but for others it adds to the stress of an already challenging semester.

What I find to be the hardest part is managing my time between online classes, in-person classes, extracurricular activities and jobs, while also trying to maintain a socially distant social life with my college friends. 

With the stress of maintaining so many different aspects of college life, I need something to do outside of classwork not only for my sanity but for my mental health. So far it’s been difficult to occupy my free time, given that we live in our little State College ‘bubble’ and even without restrictions, there still isn’t a ton to do. 

Only two of my five classes have some type of in-person component, so I only go on campus two or three times each week. (At this point, that’s way more than many other universities.) Other than that, I don’t leave home much, which starts to make the one bedroom apartment I am living in feel even smaller.

Even something as simple as hanging out with friends is nerve wracking, as we have to keep groups to 10 or less people to avoid a $300 fine. I’m not sure what others at Penn State are doing, but my friend group generally tries to only be in contact with each other and a small amount of other people, so that we can all safely hang out together. My advice is to have a talk about this with your own friends and set some ground rules you can all agree on. Knowing where all my friends have been and who they have interacted with has kept my mind at ease when there’s a constant fear of getting COVID-19. This has allowed me to actually have a social life on a smaller scale. 

I don’t know about you, but after enduring my first week of classes full of technical difficulties on Zoom, crowds of unmasked students downtown, and difficulty seeing friends, I sometimes wonder if it would be easier to attend my classes exclusively online.

I think we can all agree that things are just plain weird, but with time, I think – I hope – things will slowly return to normal. For now, I’ll be attending lectures on Zoom from my bed with the camera off, trying to absorb the information my professors are teaching me during this ‘unprecedented time.’ 

Here are some tips for making it through the semester.

Go outside 

Go for a walk around campusdo yoga on the HUB lawn, study in front of Old Main, or enjoy outdoor dining. With many classes going completely online, it’s easy to stay cooped up inside all day—heading outdoors is a great way to get your blood pumping (and some much-needed vitamin D). 

Organize your work area 

Personalize your desk, get a comfy chair cushion, or hang up some posters that inspire you. Creating a workspace that makes you excited to hop onto Zoom will make you feel more motivated and productive instead of always logging on from your bed (which I know is very tempting). 

Join clubs 

Even if they aren’t meeting inperson many clubs are still looking for new members, and Penn State has a club for pretty much anything you can think of. Joining something new is a great way to make friends while doing something you enjoy. 

Get a planner or online calendar 

Since many classes aren’t meeting in person this semester, it can be difficult to stay up to speed on due dates and assignments. A planner or calendar can make it easier to stay on top of things and get your work done on time. There are plenty of great planner options on Amazon or at the Penn State bookstore! 

Invest in a comfy face mask 

Chances are you’re going to be spending a lot of time in a mask, so why not get one that you love? There are endless colors, designs, and fits to choose from, so hop online and find the face mask of your dreams. 

Don’t be too hard on yourself 

This is an unorthodox semester, so don’t get down if you’re feeling less motivated than usual. Cut yourself some slack—sometimes just getting through the day is something to be proud of.  

 

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