My College:

College Preparedness: Recovering from the Pandemic

Suzanne Shaffer

Share this:

Three years later, and we’re still experiencing the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on our students.

New research suggests students still haven’t regained the academic ground they lost in the ongoing disruptions to life and education.

The pandemic hit quickly, catching schools off guard. Educators did their best to convert standard in-person lessons to remote learning, but it was hard if not impossible in many cases. Students struggled through Zoom classes, often on a shared family computer or with poor internet. Many were dealing with serious health, financial, and family stressors. Teachers had trouble assessing their students’ progress online.

The result: High school students lost on average the equivalent of 3.4 months of instruction in reading, 3.3 months in math, 3.1 months in science, and 2.3 months in English.

Many of these students will continue to struggle after high school graduation. They may opt out of college, or arrive on campus unprepared. They simply didn’t get the chance to develop the skills and knowledge base necessary to succeed in college-level courses.

Unfinished Learning

Students whose learning was impacted by the pandemic are struggling in the foundational college courses they need to progress in their academic and professional careers.

Student Voice survey of 2,000 college students from 108 institutions found that:

  • Forty-seven percent of students rated the value of their education during the 2020–21 school year as fair or poor.
  • More than half (52 percent) said they learned less that year compared to pre-COVID years.
  • Fifty-eight percent of first-year college students reported feeling very or somewhat unprepared for college.

A new college student at the University of Texas recounted her struggle . She excelled in math prior to the pandemic, but by a slim margin failed the math placement exam that would have put her in calculus as a freshman. She retook pre-calculus and now spends four days a week in a small seminar-style calculus class with 31 other students. More than 20 of her classmates took the larger, lecture-style class and failed.

“I want to say it’s going good so far but, you know, there’s just some things where I look at them and I’m just like, ‘where’s the math? I just see letters,’" she said. “I don’t understand anything; I’ll just sit there, kind of lost.”

Students who fail courses face other obstacles as well. If their GPA drops, they risk losing financial aid which could mean they’re forced to leave school. If they move on to higher level courses without being academically ready, this will add stress and frustration to their lives. They might choose an easier career path to avoid the academic pressure and regret that choice in the future.

Ripple Effects

The pandemic also affected the health and well-being of students. More than 35 percent of parents are very or extremely concerned about their children’s mental health and over half of parents (61%) reported their child's social-emotional development was impaired by the pandemic.

School closures and lockdowns led to increased loneliness and anxiety among children and teens. According to The Hechinger Report, veteran teachers at all grade levels are seeing the worst student behavior of their careers. After missing out on much of the last two school years, kids have lost ground in social and behavioral skill, and without regular, in-person daily interactions, teachers and counselors were less able to detect when students needed help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, and the Children’s Hospital Association declared a state of emergency in children’s mental health. These effects will certainly be felt and experienced on the college level as well. College is already an emotional adjustment; it's going to be harder for many students to adapt and thrive.

It's too soon to say of course, but the effects might ripple far into the future for this generation of kids. According to a report compiled by McKinsey & Co., “Education achievement and attainment are linked not only to higher earnings but also to better health, reduced incarceration rates, and greater political participation.” Pandemic-related unfinished learning could reduce an individual student's lifetime earnings and negatively impact the country's GDP as a whole.

Parents Can Help!

So, what do we do to help our kids who may be struggling?

It's unreasonable to think we can put recovery efforts in place in 2022 and expect by next year things will be back to normal. The research and data show this will be a multiyear effort to help students catch up.

More than ever, it’s key for the parents of new college students as well as college-bound high school seniors to get familiar with available school resources and encourage help-seeking behaviors in their students. For students preparing to apply to college, it’s even more crucial they get help catching up with their unfinished learning.

High school counselors recommend some strategies to help students rebound from the loss of learning and mental health issues created by the pandemic. These can take place in schools or in your home:

  • Encourage extracurricular activities: These help with social skills, boost a student’s resume, and go a long way toward helping them adjust to college social life.
  • Let your student take a break when they feel overwhelmed: Provide them with comfortable and welcoming spaces where they can recharge their batteries.
  • Teach and model social and emotional skills: Learning to manage emotions, work toward goals, and practice empathy will help your student adjust to both high school and college settings.

Here are ways you can specifically support your student's academic resilience:

  • Be aware of any learning difficulties: Tune in to how they're doing academically and encourage them to proactively seek support from teachers and professors. They shouldn't wait until they're floundering. Many college professors are committed to helping students who are lagging behind by offering extra tutoring sessions or small-class support.
  • Meet with your student’s high school counselor to discuss how they can improve their grades or adjust their schedule. They may have to retake courses or add courses to improve their GPA.
  • Get tutoring: Tutoring is always available at high school and on college campuses. If not, consider hiring a private tutor.

Finally, familiarize yourself with mental support services in the community and at your student's school. And prioritize your own mental health.

Now more than ever, our students need to learn how to self-advocate. Knowing how to seek help when needed is a crucial skill that will help them overcome the academic and social-emotional losses they've experienced during the pandemic.

Share this:
Suzanne Shaffer counsels students and families through her blog, Parenting for College. Her advice has been featured in print and online on Huffington Post, Yahoo Finance, U.S. News College, TeenLife, Smart College Visit, Road2College and more.
Find Your University
  • Sign up to receive awesome content in your inbox every week.

    We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy and terms for more info.

  • Connect

    Don't Miss Out!

    Get engaging stories and helpful information all year long. Join our college parent newsletter!