When will students return to campus?
American colleges and universities across the country plan to reopen this fall and have begun announcing each of their plans regarding move-in dates, in-person instruction, and mandatory safety measures. Schools emphasize that these details are subject to change, however the intent is to finally resume in-person education. Some institutions plan on staying partially online for the 2021-22 academic year with a combination of virtual and campus instruction while others plan to drop their all-virtual courses by the end of the summer. Assuming that the vaccine rollout continues to make vaccinations widely accessible, both American and international students can expect to transition from Zoom classes and returning to campus by the beginning of the academic year.
What will be different when we return?
It is unrealistic to expect the on-campus experience to resemble exactly what we remember it to have been pre-COVID-19 as the transition to society fully reopening is a gradual process. One of the key differences to anticipate for the upcoming fall term is for campus officials to implement plans for approximately 70-80% of courses to be offered in person including most labs, however large lectures would primarily be held remotely similar to the Zoom protocol students have become accustomed to over the past year. However, these large lectures will most likely have discussion sections in person since the classroom capacity, including a TA, would be much smaller therefore safer when it comes to distance learning. Scheduling classes this way minimizes unnecessary contact while still allowing students to experience college life properly.
Public health restrictions continue to roll back as COVID-19 vaccinations become more accessible, therefore college administrators expect to offer a significant amount of in-person learning going forward. The hope is for every college student to receive even a partial amount of face-to-face instruction. For international students arriving in the US, the main points to consider are travel related. In addition to the requirement to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, visa requirements largely depend on the country students are traveling from, therefore it is necessary to consult university departments that specifically work with international students. Visa appointment delays and cancellations are unfortunately to be expected in many countries in coming months due to the influx of those planning to enter the country.
How can we stay safe at school post-pandemic?
There are many procedures we all must follow in order to stay safe when returning to campus to enjoy post co-vid campus life. It goes without saying that students returning to campus housing, including those who are fully vaccinated, will need to take a COVID-19 test upon arrival or show proof of a negative test result within the past 72 hours to ensure all bases are covered. Some universities may implement on-campus vaccinations for unvaccinated students on the condition that they arrive before the beginning of the fall term. Rest assured that fully vaccinated students, faculty, and staff will not need regular COVID-19 testing and they can go about their normal daily routines. Additionally, some schools may require face masks to be worn in areas where physical distancing cannot be maintained such as at events, on-campus stores, or even some on-campus job sites. On an individual level, washing your hands and using hand sanitizer after touching public surfaces will become a common preventive measure. Supporting each other, physical distancing, de-densifying campus spaces, and maintaining cleanliness will collectively become our new normal as we re-enter post-pandemic society.